Every few years, a company tries to make a big push to solve the problem of easy and secure access to our healthcare information. The prospect of getting better access to my medical information — and the ability to share that more easily — has always excited me. On the consumer-facing side, a number of companies have attempted to solve the patient access problem, notably Microsoft (HealthVault in 2007), and Google (Google Health in 2008). Most recently, Apple announced the latest update to its health app, which could make it even easier to see our own health information. Not all have succeeded, however. Google Health, for example, discontinued its service in 2012. The journey to health information nirvana continues to be a difficult one.
While consumer access to health information is important and exciting for all of us as patients, the back offices of healthcare organizations are the workhorses when it comes to sharing patient information. The volume of patient data being shared behind the scenes — from consents and referrals to lab reports, H&Ps, and prescriptions — is several orders of magnitude greater than information shared with patients directly. All of this data are shared between internal departments, among specialists, private medical groups, and across a myriad of institutions and business associates, including insurance companies, laboratories, pharmacies, clearinghouses, law firms, and more.
While the HITECH Act pushed the adoption of electronic health record systems to new heights over the last decade, those systems can be notoriously difficult for sharing information between different EHR systems. And while EHR vendors are ostensibly interested in solving this problem, it seems vendors are more incentivized to have customers migrate to their own system than build a bridge between them. While multiple efforts around a digital highway for better interoperability and communication are currently in play, the one technology that continues to work diligently without any compatibility issues for sharing information is the humble but enduring fax.