Ontario Government To Eliminate Fax Machines Within The Next Five Years To Promote Patient Privacy And Access To Health Care

M. Imtiaz Karamat is an IP Osgoode Alumnus and Associate Lawyer at Deeth Williams Wall LLP. This article was originally posted on E-TIPS™ For Deeth Williams Wall LLP on Feb 23, 2023.

On February 2, 2023, Ontario’s Ministry of Health (the Ministry) released its new health care plan, entitled Your Health: A Plan for Connected and Convenient Care (the Plan).  As part of the Plan, the Ministry intends to replace fax machines with digital communication alternatives at all Ontario health care providers within the next five years.  

The first pillar of the Plan is called “The Right Care in the Right Place” and focuses on making health care more available and convenient for those seeking to access health resources.  The Ministry’s mission to “axe the fax” falls under this pillar by eliminating the use of fax machines to reduce health care delays, promote safer patient care, and allow health data to easily follow the patient wherever they may access care.

The Plan also recognizes that eliminating the use of fax machines would promote patient privacy, which aligns with the Information and Privacy Commissioner of Ontario’s (IPC’s) initiative to modernize Ontario’s health communication infrastructure.  As previously reported by the E-TIPS® Newsletter here, the IPC joined fellow Canadian privacy regulators in September 2022 to acknowledge the link between certain data breaches and the use of fax machines, and call for the phasing out of faxes.  

This was recently reinforced by the IPC’s news release (the News Release) following its review of a large number of privacy breaches at St. Joseph’s Healthcare Hamilton caused by misdirected faxes.  In the News Release, the IPC stated that “misdirected faxes are the leading cause of unauthorized disclosure of personal health information in Ontario” and there is an “enormous potential” for stakeholders to work with the government to replace this outdated communication system.  The IPC’s full review can be found here.

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