Sask. Health Authority sends more private health info to computer shop, says frustrated owner

The Saskatchewan Health Authority has again faxed private medical information about a patient to a North Battleford computer shop, according to the frustrated owner of the business.

Kelly's Computer Works in North Battleford has received private patient information multiple times, owner says

Darryl Arnold says he feels bad for the patients whose private information has been erroneously sent to his computer shop, which has a similar number to a local doctor's office. (CBC)

The Saskatchewan Health Authority has again faxed private medical information about a patient to a North Battleford computer shop, according to the frustrated owner of the business.

Darryl Arnold says his company fax machine received a 21-page medical report from the Shellbrook Hospital that was intended for a North Battleford-area doctor.

He said he did not read the document, but the cover page included the patient's name.

"I feel really bad for [the patient] — because, obviously if they are seeking medical help, the doctor needs the information that is in this medical report," said Arnold.

Business keeps getting health faxes

Arnold says Kelly's Computer Works has received numerous faxes from health authority facilities, dating back to January of last year.

He previously received a fax from the non-invasive cardiology unit at St. Paul's Hospital — then part of the Saskatoon Health Region, and since amalgamated into the Saskatchewan Health Authority.

In 2017, Arnold contacted Saskatchewan's information and privacy commissioner, Ron Kruzeniski, who urged the health region to start following its own policies when it comes to sending internal faxes.

"I find that [the health region's] faxing practices do not follow its internal policy and procedure regarding faxing personal health information," he wrote in a report responding to Arnold's complaint last October.

Solution not available everywhere

Doug Dahl, communications officer with Saskatchewan Health Authority in Prince Albert, said that as a result of that report, the former Saskatoon Health Region developed a system that allowed it to choose a physician's name and it would fax automatically.

"Now that was available in that circumstance; that situation isn't available everywhere throughout the province and, unfortunately, this error occurred in a different location," Dahl said. "It wouldn't have necessarily been rolled out province-wide because, at that time, the regions were still separate."

The health authority said in an emailed response Tuesday night that strengthening patient confidentiality practices was a "high priority," and that the incident would be reported to the Office of the Saskatchewan Information and Privacy Commissioner and an investigation would be conducted.

Dahl said the investigation will have recommendations for how to reduce or eliminate the possibility that similar incidents will happen, but he doesn't know if the recommendations will apply province-wide.

Fax numbers almost identical 

Arnold said his company's fax number is nearly identical to the one belonging to a North Battleford-area doctor's office — it's just one digit different.

He said he has been in contact with a health authority worker, who suggested he address the problem by changing his business fax number.

Arnold said he is willing to do that as long as the health authority compensates him for reprinting company business cards and letterhead.

But he said the health authority did not respond after he sent them the amount he wants them to pay for the number.

Arnold said the authority also suggested he try to set up his fax machine to block faxes from health authority numbers, but the company that sold him the machine has told him that's not possible.

He contacted the Office of the Saskatchewan Information and Privacy Commissioner on Tuesday.

"My bigger concern is this is affecting the health care of the patients," said Arnold.

"The doctor is expecting this information at one point and it's not getting to him, it's getting to me. So … I have a huge concern for the patients." 

Encrypted email would solve problem: Arnold

Arnold believes the problem is preventable.

"They do need to do something about it," he said. "Maybe they need to consider a different kind of technology." 

Arnold thinks the health authority should shift to using encrypted email to transfer patient information, but believes they prefer to use fax communication because it provides proof of receipt.

Dahl said there may be other technological solutions to share information between health-care providers, but financial resources are a concern.

"Something more robust like an electronic health record is a fairly large investment," he said. "It would depend upon the amount of resources required."

With files from Ashleigh Mattern