Can you put patient information on the coversheet of a medically related fax, or is that a violation of HIPAA?

I have a question about HIPAA cover sheets. Our fax cover sheet contains the language as recommended. Can we then put patient info on the cover sheet or does HIPAA not allow any private info on the cover sheet, only allowed on the accompanying sheets?

First, a disclaimer: cannot provide legal advice. To be absolutely certain you are obeying HIPAA regulations to the letter, you need to seek out a legal expert.

Now, as for your question, there is actually some disagreement on this issue. To be safe, I would put any identifying information on a second sheet. That’s how big universities and hospitals seem to do it, and that’s probably the most legally precautious route to take. The logic here is that the cover sheet informs a recipient that the information in the fax is confidential and that if the fax has reached an unintended recipient, it needs to be destroyed unseen. That doesn’t do you much good if that sensitive information is on the cover sheet. Ergo, I would say it’s logically not a good idea.

That being said, if there is no identifying information on the cover sheet, an unintended recipient might be forced to look on the second page to find out the intended purpose of the fax. Therefore, some people recommend putting the last name of the patient (and nothing else!) on the first page for identification purposes.

Most importantly, you should keep in mind that there’s more to faxing sensitive patient information than just a cover sheet. For example, if you’re faxing highly sensitive information, you need to double check the fax number, call the person you’re faxing to make sure they’re there to receive it, and then wait for the recipient to call you to make sure it was received in its entirety. These steps are in some ways more important than the cover sheet, because by following this protocol you will never encounter information going astray in the first place.

So, to summarize: if you have to fax medical information, don’t put any information identifying the patient on the cover sheet.

Do you have a question about faxing? Send me your fax question.