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.
As it turns out, fax is a great, unifying technology. It’s highly compatible — if not directly integrated — with different systems; it’s simple, and secure; and it’s a HIPAA-compliant mode of communication. Furthermore, most, if not all, EHRs have the ability to send and receive faxes – usually through a dedicated fax vendor’s solution. When people hear the word “fax,” what often comes to mind are outdated fax machines that emit strange tones and static, are costly to operate and maintain, and take way too long to use. Today, faxing no longer means standing in front of a clunky machine making sure the pages don’t jam. Faxing through the cloud or an on-premises server lets you send any type of document, no matter its size. In fact, many EHRs already have tight integrations to enable faxing any part of a patient record quickly and securely. Additionally, unlike standalone fax machines, faxing can be centrally managed, and traffic data can be collected and analyzed for compliance purposes.
Clinicians and staff are not the only employees using fax in healthcare. HIM departments implement information systems that need to communicate with many different groups: insurance companies, law firms, and of course patients who request access to their own medical information. Once again, fax is a common denominator. And with larger hospital systems sending tens of thousands of faxes per week or more, an integrated fax solution can reduce the amount of work, minimize errors, and reduce staffing of a mundane task.
The most likely reason healthcare continues to rely on fax is not the reliability, the scalability, or the security, but because these large, multifaceted healthcare systems are actually difficult to change. Core communication changes to major systems and processes also carry a non-trivial amount of risk. A failure in speedy and accurate information sharing could result in delays or worse, which might negatively affect patient care. The manual fax machines can— and should— be retired in favor of a modern networked and integrated fax solution. Upgrading is relatively straightforward and can provide significant advantages in ease of use, security, and productivity. What will you do with all that extra time not standing in front of the fax machine?
Bill Ho is CEO of Biscom, and is a recognized security expert for some of the most regulated industries, including healthcare. Bill received his BS in computer science from Stanford University, his MS from Harvard University, and his MBA from MIT’s Sloan School of Management.
As the leading provider of secure document transfer solutions for highly regulated industries such as healthcare, government, legal, and financial services, Biscom continues to spearhead data security with its enterprise fax products, secure file transfer solutions, and collaboration tools. Biscom uses its thirty years of experience to help some of the world’s largest organizations securely transmit and share information, keeping confidential data protected. Biscom leads the industry in innovation and outstanding customer support. Learn more at http://www.biscom.com.