Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Wrong number sends personal medical information to family's fax

HUDSON — Elizabeth Reed knows too much.

She knows about a woman's sore on her coccyx. She's seen a man's blood work results. She knows a doctor's home phone number and what medicines he prescribed for his kids.

"I shouldn't have this information," said Reed, who is aware of federal privacy laws that protect medical records. "This is private, personal information. I wouldn't want anyone to have that information about me."

How does she know these details? They come unsolicited to her home fax machine. A fax number on a doctor's office prescription pad was off by one digit. So instead of going to the practice Doctors at Home, requests for treatments or prescription refills went to Reed. "I've got things from podiatrists' offices, nursing homes, pharmacies …" said Reed, 62, who keeps the faxes in a shoe box after trying to track the origin of each one and notify the sender.

When some nursing home forms first showed up in September, she thought it was a one-time mistake but soon after became besieged with medical faxes from all over the Tampa Bay area.

She started calling the pharmacies to let them know. Some were sympathetic and fixed the mistake. Others, she said, were rude and told her to change her phone number.

One pharmacist, David Shek, told her it was likely a violation of federal law for health care providers to release information to others without permission.

"It's annoying to say the least," said Shek, who now works in New York. At worst, he said, "it's dangerous" as patients might not get the treatment they need because their paperwork doesn't go to the right place.

Reed said she called the doctor's office, but the faxes kept coming.

She even called the state Health Department. People there referred the case to a staffer, but Reed says they say they can't do anything.

The privacy rule, part of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPPA), is federal and enforced by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Office of Civil Rights. Representatives did not return messages from the St. Petersburg Times.

The agency's website says a person who knowingly obtains or discloses individually identifiable health information in violation of the law faces a fine of $50,000 and up to one-year imprisonment. The criminal penalties increase to $100,000 and up to five years imprisonment if the wrongful conduct involves false pretenses, and to $250,000 and up to 10 years imprisonment if the wrongful conduct involves the intent to sell, transfer, or use individually identifiable health information for commercial advantage, personal gain, or malicious harm.

Reed continues trying to trace each fax as it arrives. Sometimes all she has is a sender's fax number. She uses the computer to do reverse lookups and find phone numbers. Some faxes take her more than an hour to deal with.

The problem has gotten so bad that her husband, Ernie, can't even use the answering machine for his lawn maintenance business. "The time gets eaten up with fax noise," he said.

It also consumes the Reeds' fax paper and ink. The couple is forced to rely on cell phones for most of their communication.

Reed knows these are not her responsibility. But the former Air Force medic says she feels a sense of duty.

"I don't want someone to be in danger," she said. What if she goes on vacation and someone's prescription refill order or treatment request comes in?

The problem might be solved. Doctors At Home got absorbed by Access Health Care about a year ago.

Dr. Singh Pariksith, the company's medical director said the company would resolve the matter by sending a memo to the companies.

"These pharmacies put the number in their computer and it's very difficult to get out," he said. "We will follow up one by one."

Reed said she suggested a memo last year but no one bothered.

"It could have been so simple," she said. "But I guess people who answered the phone were busy and they didn't have time to do it."

Wrong number sends personal medical information to family's fax 04/30/10 [Last modified: Friday, April 30, 2010 8:30pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. What you need to know for Thursday, May 25

    News

    Catching you up on overnight happenings, and what you need to know today.

    To catch a ring of poachers who targeted Florida's million-dollar alligator farming industry, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission set up an undercover operation. They created their own alligator farm, complete with plenty of real, live alligators, watched over by real, live undercover wildlife officers. It also had hidden video cameras to record everything that happened. That was two years ago, and on Wednesday wildlife officers announced that they arrested nine people on  44 felony charges alleging they broke wildlife laws governing alligator harvesting, transporting eggs and hatchlings across state lines, dealing in stolen property, falsifying records, racketeering and conspiracy. The wildlife commission released these photos of alligators, eggs and hatchlings taken during the undercover operation. [Courtesy of Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission]
  2. Trigaux: Amid a record turnout, regional technology group spotlights successes, desire to do more

    Business

    ST. PETERSBURG — They came. They saw. They celebrated Tampa Bay's tech momentum.

    A record turnout event by the Tampa Bay Technology Forum, held May 24 at the Mahaffey Theater in St. Petersburg, featured a panel of area tech executives talking about the challenges encountered during their respective mergers and acquisitions. Show, from left to right, are: Gerard Purcell, senior vice president of global IT integration at Tech Data Corp.; John Kuemmel, chief information officer at Triad Retail Media, and Chris Cate, chief operating officer at Valpak. [Robert Trigaux, Times]
  3. Take 2: Some fear Tampa Bay Next transportation plan is TBX redux

    Transportation

    TAMPA — For many, Wednesday's regional transportation meeting was a dose of deja vu.

    The Florida Department of Transportation on Monday announced that it was renaming its controversial Tampa Bay Express plan, also known as TBX. The plan will now be known as Tampa Bay Next, or TBN. But the plan remains the same: spend $60 billion to add 90 miles of toll roads to bay area interstates that are currently free of tolls. [Florida Department of Transportation]
  4. Hailed as 'pioneers,' students from St. Petersburg High's first IB class return 30 years later

    Education

    ST. PETERSBURG — The students came from all over Pinellas County, some enduring hot bus rides to a school far from home. At first, they barely knew what to call themselves. All they knew was that they were in for a challenge.

    Class of 1987 alumni Devin Brown, from left, and D.J. Wagner, world history teacher Samuel Davis and 1987 graduate Milford Chavous chat at their table.
  5. Flower boxes on Fort Harrison in Clearwater to go, traffic pattern to stay

    Roads

    I travel Fort Harrison Avenue in Clearwater often and I've noticed that the travel lanes have been rerouted to allow for what looks like flower boxes that have been painted by children. There are also a few spaces that push the travel lane to the center that have no boxes. Is this a permanent travel lane now? It …