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How can we make sure faxes sent out-of-hours remain confidential?

Q - Our practice manager has suggested we leave the fax machine switched off at night as she believes we could be liable for any urgent fax not acted upon or for any breach of confidentiality if it is seen by the wrong people.

Patients should be advised in the practice leaflet of the ways they can contact the surgery.

They should be informed it is not possible to guarantee receipt of a fax and that there will be nobody to receive or act upon faxes out-of-hours. It may be possible to leave a recorded message to that effect on the fax machine.

If it is essential to fax confidential medical information to a doctor's practice, safe-haven fax procedures should always be used (see box).

Confidential medical information should therefore never be transmitted to the surgery by fax out-of-hours.

Identifiable medical data should always be kept as secure as possible.

In the event that a fax was sent out-of-hours, this could probably be viewed quite easily by cleaners, caretakers or security staff. These members of staff should be bound by a strict contractual duty of confidentiality, but it is always preferable to avoid inadvertent disclosure.

Some out-of-hours providers routinely fax through confidential and identifiable patient data to practices out-of-hours. We at Wessex LMCs have been assured that all practices were asked to confirm they have a safe-haven fax before this system was implemented.

It would be wise to check you are happy that you are complying fully with safe-haven procedures if this system is in place.

Safe-haven fax

procedures

lEnsure all staff are fully aware of their duty of confidentiality

lIf possible ensure your fax is in a locked room; if this is not possible, notify any relevant organisation or person that confidential faxes should only be sent out-of-hours if absolutely necessary, and then only if the sender has checked there is someone authorised to receive them

Neither Pulse nor Wessex LMCs can accept any legal liability in respect of the answers given. Readers should seek independent advice before acting on the information concerned.

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