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Why is HIPAA-Compliant Fax Crucial for the Healthcare Industry?

Faxing was revolutionary when it first appeared. The ability to send documents easily and securely to another destination provided a new way for hospitals and medical centers to communicate about patients. When medical records needed to be sent to another doctor, faxing provided the way to make this happen fast, without waiting for the mail to arrive. There were, and are, downsides to traditional faxing, though, that mean more stringent requirements are necessary for hospitals and medical facilities. With privacy as a significant concern, those in the healthcare industry must follow HIPAA guidelines when sending faxes.

HIPAA Privacy

In 1996, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act was enacted. Initially, HIPAA was a way to make healthcare more accessible to all. Title II in HIPAA was created to help prevent fraud and abuse in healthcare plans. Since the initial creation of HIPAA, this has expanded significantly. It is now used to control privacy within the healthcare industry. March 2002 saw the addition of the Privacy Rule. The Privacy Rule covers health plans and healthcare providers who may transmit any health information in electronic form. Today, any healthcare facility that uses faxing must be aware of the HIPAA privacy rules and follow the requirements when faxing to prevent unauthorized disclosure of medical records. Healthcare facilities can utilize secure online faxing to comply with all privacy regulations when faxing.

Fax Machines for Modern Medical Centers

Fax machines have been around since the 1800s, but the healthcare providers didn't start using them until many years later. After 1964, when the modern fax machines were created, healthcare providers began relying on them as a way to transmit documents rapidly between providers. When a patient needed their medical records sent to another doctor, faxing provided a fast and easy way.

The downside to this was the potential for error. If the provider entered a number incorrectly or there was an issue with the fax machine, there's no telling where the document would end up. On top of this, there's the possibility of paper jams, issues with the ink, and a lot more that would mean the document wouldn't be received by the destination. Faxing provided modern convenience, but it also came with many problems.

After the creation of HIPAA, dealing with the potential issues with faxes became more critical than ever before. Patient privacy became a much more significant concern. Faxing often wasn't secure enough to be used for transmitting confidential data, yet it was a staple of the healthcare setting at this point. To combat potential issues, HIPAA released requirements for faxes that healthcare providers must follow to help prevent any privacy concerns.

HIPAA Requirements for Faxes

With the potential issues associated with faxing, HIPAA has created requirements for healthcare providers to use when faxing, including the following.

Fax Machines Located in Secure Area

The fax machine used by healthcare professionals must be located in a secured area not accessible to the public. Keeping it in a secure location prevents anyone who is unauthorized from getting access to the documents sent or received by fax. Security measures must be in place to keep the fax machine secure.

Destination Numbers Must be Verified

Healthcare providers sending faxes must verify the number before sending a fax. Verification helps prevent a fax from being sent to a different, unauthorized location where it can be viewed by someone who should not have access to the documents.

Recipients Must be Notified

Healthcare providers must notify the recipients that they are sending a document. The notification is done to ensure that someone who is authorized to view the document will receive it and make sure it is securely stored.

Cover Sheet is Required

A cover sheet is required to prevent private data from being seen by anyone who may be able to view the fax machine. The cover sheet should include information about who can view the document and state it contains confidential information.

Send to Secure Destination Only

Healthcare providers must make sure they only send documents to secure locations. If they cannot confirm that the destination is secured, they should find an alternative way to transmit the data.

Received Faxes Must be Secured

Any faxes that the healthcare facility receives will need to be securely stored. It is essential to store the documents as soon as they are received to prevent unauthorized access to them.

Meeting Today's Standards With Online Fax Services

Keeping faxed documents confidential is crucial to comply with HIPAA, but it can be daunting to keep track of and follow all requirements with a standard fax machine. For this reason, many healthcare providers are turning to online fax services. There is no need to maintain a secured area for the fax machine, as everything is done on computers that are already secure. Online fax services typically provide notifications to recipients automatically and confirm that the document was received. Since the documents can be stored in the cloud, they are secured once they are received.

With online faxes, healthcare providers must choose a company that is HIPAA-compliant to use. HIPAA-compliant fax companies offer many added benefits and services to ensure that all documents sent or received are secured, and that patient data is kept confidential. Healthcare providers will need to do a few steps for sending and receiving documents manually to comply with HIPAA fully, but choosing a HIPAA-compliant fax company can make this a lot easier.

Top Benefits of Online Fax Services

For healthcare providers today, online fax services provide numerous benefits that make this a more convenient and secure option. Some of the top benefits of opting for online fax services include the following.

High-Level Encryption and Security

All faxes sent or received are encrypted, and other security measures are put in place to prevent unauthorized access to any documents. Encryption helps healthcare providers comply with HIPAA regulations to avoid potential privacy concerns.

Reduced Need for Ink, Paper, Maintenance

Since a physical fax machine is no longer needed, there is no need to have a secured place for the fax machine. There is also no need to worry about ink or paper for the fax machine or the potential for maintenance and repairs. Fewer costs like these help healthcare providers save money.

Sending and Receiving Faxes is Faster

A lot of the compliance is done automatically, so it is easier and faster to send and receive faxes. Healthcare providers can save a significant amount of time by opting for online faxes instead of using a physical fax machine.

Faxing Can be Done Remotely

Faxes can be sent and received from anywhere. The online management tool offers healthcare providers the opportunity to send and receive faxes even if they aren't in the office at the time. If they require documents for a patient, they can access those documents from the patient's room instead of going to the fax machine to receive physical copies.

Faxes Can be Stored and Accessed

Online fax companies provide management services to store and access any faxes from anywhere. This offers easier management of the documents and keeps them secure, helping providers comply with HIPAA guidelines for faxes.

Finding the Right Online Fax Service

HIPAA violations can be severe, with penalties that can range from as little as $100 to as much as $50,000. There's also the possibility of criminal charges if HIPAA is not followed and the potential for the healthcare facility to close as a result. Using any online fax service is not sufficient, as many don't provide the basic security needed to comply with HIPAA privacy regulations.

Healthcare providers will want to make sure they choose a HIPAA-compliant fax company to work with when they need to fax patient documents. HIPAA-compliant companies offer real-time data transfer to send faxes immediately, reducing the potential for anything to go wrong.

HIPAA-compliant companies also offer data encryption, keeping the documents secure when sent or received and stored in the cloud. Encryption is imperative today when the possibility of a security breach is higher than ever before. A HIPAA-compliant company will also provide instant confirmation of delivery, ensuring the fax is received by the intended recipient. The confirmation of delivery is required for HIPAA compliance, so it is something that healthcare providers will need when sending or receiving faxes.

Faxes have long been used as a way to send patient information between healthcare facilities and providers, though it has not always been a secure option. With HIPAA, it is more important than ever before to make sure this is done securely, and that patient data is kept confidential. While there are potential issues with traditional fax methods, today's healthcare providers can take advantage of HIPAA-compliant online fax services to send and receive documents with ease. Opting for an online provider who is HIPAA-compliant helps healthcare providers meet all requirements to send and receive documents securely and safely, protecting the personal information of all patients yet allowing for the fast and effortless transfer of data when necessary.