Tenn. Gave Doctors Wrong Fax To Send Records

The Associated Press

NASHVILLE (AP) – The Tennessee Department of Human Services said it accidentally sent the wrong fax number to 100 medical providers, causing them to send confidential patient information to an Indiana business instead of the correct state office.

Michelle Mowery Johnson, a spokeswoman for DHS, said they are working to correct the problem after The Tennessean reported on Monday that hundreds of faxes that included private medical information and Social Security numbers were being sent to a manufacturer of solar-powered attic fans in St. John, Ind.

“We’re extremely embarrassed, and we’re working to remedy the situation,” said Mowery Johnson. “We hope it doesn’t happen again.”

The state e-mailed 29,000 medical providers on Monday to give them the correct toll-free fax number for the Disability Determination Section, under DHS.

Mowery Johnson said the problem stemmed from a typing error when a caseworker sent a cover sheet with the wrong fax number to medical providers.

Bill Keith, owner of SunRise Solar Inc. in Indiana, said he has been receiving hundreds of confidential medical faxes for about three years.

He said he has tried to correct the problem by calling back the medical providers, but with no luck at stopping the daily faxes.

“People in Tennessee ought to be concerned, and there will probably be a public outcry,” Keith said. “This shows the inefficiencies in our system. Doctors’ offices have been rude to me on this issue when I try to point out the problem.”

State officials first told The Tennessean that the toll-free fax number for Keith’s business and the state are very similar and the problem was with doctors’ offices entering the wrong number.

But on Monday, Mowery Johnson said the state was responsible when a new worker sent a cover sheet with the wrong fax number to medical providers.

State officials said they can’t change the fax number because it belongs to the Social Security Administration, which handles the disability checks.

Medical providers should switch to electronic record-keeping, which would have reduced the risk of sending confidential medical information to the wrong place, said Mark Frisse, director of regional informatics at the Vanderbilt Center for Better Health.

Most Tennessee medical providers use electronic records but 4,500 of them still use the fax machine, Mowery Johnson said.

“It’s a sloppy world with faxes and paper,” she said.

Patients who have had their medical records inappropriately released can file a complaint under HIPAA, the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act. Each doctor’s office has a medical privacy officer, and patients may file HIPAA complaints with those officers.

Also, patients can file a complaint with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Civil Rights, at www.hhs.gov/ocr/hipaa.


Information from The Tennessean, http://www.tennessean.com.

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