Medical notes sent in error

Last updated 05:00 01/08/2011
PRIVACY BREACH: John Ritchie's fax machine has been delivering confidential medical records for the past year, despite his best efforts to have them stopped.
PRIVACY BREACH: John Ritchie's fax machine has been delivering confidential medical records for the past year, despite his best efforts to have them stopped.

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John Ritchie just wants his fax machine to stop invading your privacy.

Ritchie, 89, of Merivale, has been mistakenly receiving confidential medical records via his home fax machine since the middle of last year.

The former University of Canterbury professor of music estimates he has received between 50 to 100 records from the Canterbury District Health Board (CDHB), Hutt Valley District Health Board, UC Health Centre, South Canterbury District Health Board and Selwyn Medical Centre fax machines.

Ritchie has poor eyesight, so he finds the notes difficult to read.

However, a quick glance reveals details of mental health illnesses and treatments, prescribed medications and other highly sensitive information.

Ritchie told The Press the records started arriving mid-last year, with just the occasional fax.

"Then it became almost a flood."

He contacted the CDHB and spoke to a woman who was "very concerned".

"She was highly apologetic and asked me to destroy them, which I did."

But the faxes kept coming, so Ritchie contacted his landline and fax provider, Telecom.

"Telecom agreed it was very unfortunate but it would be difficult for them to prevent it from recurring," Ritchie said.

Telecom suggested he change his numbers, but he did not wish to because his hundreds of former colleagues and other contacts, many internationally based, used them.

"All I want is for them to stop. I can't believe there isn't a simple solution. It's infuriating."

When The Press contacted Telecom over Ritchie's concerns, Paul Deavoll, the South Island head of service provider Gen-i, said the company took the complaint "very seriously".

The original response that Ritchie change his numbers had not been a suitable solution, he said.

Deavoll said he had since visited Ritchie and established the fax numbers were being wrongly entered by the people sending the messages.

Ritchie's landline number was similiar to a CDHB fax number and it was a coincidence that Ritchie's fax machine was able to receive faxes sent to his landline. The CDHB had been correctly advertising their fax number and human error was causing Ritchie's problem, he said.

CDHB chief executive David Meates said he was "very concerned" to hear that a member of the public had been receiving faxes destined for the health board.

"We are investigating this matter, as any potential breach of patient privacy is a serious matter and of major concern.

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"It appears that some medical centres referring people to a DHB service had transposed digits in the fax number. One number starts with 355 and the other starts with 335 and the rest of the number is identical.

"We are increasingly moving from a paper-based referral system [faxes and letters] to an electronic referral process, which reduces the possibility of such incidences occurring."

Meates said the DHB would be sending an urgent reminder to all centres which fax through referrals to check they had the correct number pre-loaded in their fax machines and to take care when manually dialling the number.

The board would be speaking with Ritchie as part of its investigation.

- The Press

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