Do your office staff and answering service know how to respond to a notification?

Over the years, there have been numerous occasions when I’ve called a doctor’s office or service  to alert them to a data leak or HIPAA breach.  In some cases, I’ve reached office staff.  In other cases, it may be an answering service.

All too often, however, most of the people who have taken my calls do not seem to know  what to do next. So some ignore my calls and messages, erroneously deciding they are scam or fishy calls (and yes, I use my real name and give a work phone number when I call entities). Others take my call, but then don’t know to whom to transfer it or escalate it. And in some cases, people have actually asked me to call back if people are out to lunch.

Yesterday, another inappropriate response to a notification occurred with yet another medical practice. A surgicenter had misdirected a fax to my fax number days earlier, but I only discovered it on Sunday afternoon.

The fax contained a named patient’s medical history, their ECG, and their surgery schedule.

Although it was Sunday, I promptly called the surgicenter to alert them to their error. My call was answered by a person, and after identifying myself as Dr. [Doe], I told them that the surgicenter had erroneously faxed PHI about [Patient Name] to my office. My call was then transferred to another person.

But rather than just taking the information and relaying it or telling me what they would do next, the second person started to tell me, “Okay. You’ll have to call back after…”

I interrupted her.

“I’m not calling anyone back. This is YOUR HIPAA breach, not mine. I did you the courtesy of alerting you. If your doctors want to know more they can call me at…” And I hung up after repeating my name and phone number.

If you are a covered entity, make sure that your answering service and front-line office personnel know what to do if someone calls to alert you to a HIPAA breach. Do not count on people to call back. And let your staff know what alerts cannot wait until the office re-opens and need to be escalated to you immediately.  To be on the safe side, maybe just instruct them to notify you immediately of any calls claiming that there is a data security or privacy issue.

I cc:d Northwell Health on my tweets about this as this surgicenter is part of their system. Maybe in one of their mailings to all of their providers, they can emphasize the need for such training.


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