Privacy authorities launch fresh volley against healthcare faxing


Canada’s privacy commissioners have issued a new call for governments to abandon the practice of faxing health records.

A resolution demanding change, circulated by the office of the NWT’s information and privacy commissioner on Tuesday, asks healthcare providers to “phase out the use of traditional fax and unencrypted email as soon as reasonably possible.”

The privacy commissioners want federal, provincial and territorial governments to collaborate in devising a plan that moves from faxes to “more modern, secure and interoperable digital alternatives.”

Advertisement.

The call came at a meeting in St John’s, Newfoundland last week, just as another NWT fax snafu was being made public.

A report published this month by the NWT’s privacy commissioner, Andrew Fox, relates how a hospital worker in 2019 inadvertently sent a patient’s records to 60 different organizations. The NWT’s health authority blamed a “sensitive touch screen.”

The faxing of supposedly private documents to entirely inappropriate locations has been a feature of NWT healthcare for decades, but the group of commissioners said the territory is far from alone.

In fact, Fox has partly excused the territory’s continued reliance on faxing on the grounds that southern provinces like Alberta still insist on using the technology, despite recent efforts to modernize. The NWT’s healthcare system has to remain in step as it relies on Alberta and others for support.

Advertisement.

The privacy commissioners say the Covid-19 pandemic led to “rapid digital advancements” but privacy breaches in the health sector continue.

“Laws and regulations should be amended to provide for meaningful penalties for institutions and providers that fail to take the necessary measures to protect health information,” the office of the NWT’s information and privacy commissioner stated in a press release.