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HIPAA Q&A: Misdirected faxes

question [1]Submit your HIPAA questions to Editor Jaclyn Fitzgerald at jfitzgerald@hcpro.com [2] and we will work with our experts to provide the information you need.

Q: The organization I work for often receives misdirected reports by mail or fax. Most of the reports contain the PHI of patients of national pharmacies or patients whom our facility does not see. Often, the reports are addressed to providers who no longer work for the facility. Does HIPAA require us to protect the PHI of these individuals although they are not our patients? Should we secure these misdirected reports?

A: If you receive documents that include the PHI of those who are not your patients, consider contacting the sender and informing the organization that the misdirected reports represent a breach of unsecure PHI. The sender’s organization has an obligation to follow the HIPAA Breach Notification Rule, conduct a four-factor risk assessment, and determine whether notification is required. Securely destroy the misrouted information after notifying the sender; no further retention is required.

Editor’s note: Chris Apgar, CISSP, president of Apgar & Associates, LLC, in Portland, Oregon, answered this question for HCPro’s Briefings on HIPAA [3]. This information does not constitute legal advice. Consult legal counsel for answers to specific privacy and security questions.