While the fax machine has become a bit of a dinosaur in many business offices, its prominence persists for a majority of private medical practices. Studies from only a few years ago reveal 90% of healthcare providers rely on the fax machine as a primary means of communicating and sharing information with other providers, billers and insurers.
The Pull of the Fax
One of the biggest advantages of a fax machine for healthcare providers is that it allows easy transmission of handwritten information, diagrams, and drawings, plus the secure transmission of test results, prescriptions and other sensitive patient communication that would be illegal to send via ordinary email.
Fax machines offer the convenience of being almost universally available in the healthcare sector, and there’s the expectation of reasonable privacy and security as the sender must already have a Business Associate Agreement required by HIPAA in order to send patient data to the recipient, but fax transmissions are seldom integrated into the medical office’s IT system.
Not the Perfect Solution
Even with the advantages, there are still other more serious drawbacks. Compliance must be the biggest priority when faxing sensitive information to a recipient. Faxed pages can be lost, incorrectly distributed, improperly collated, or worse, attached to the wrong patient file. There can be a delay in the faxed communication reaching its intended recipient as healthcare facilities often limit access to the fax machine for patient privacy reasons. Fax machines can run out of paper, phone lines can be busy and toner can run dry. An error in just a single digit opens up the risk of allowing private patient information to be sent to a completely unintended recipient.
To address these issues, some healthcare providers are turning to newer technologies, like software-based faxing or more comprehensive EHR and practice management software like PracticeSuite that offers integrated internal eFax that tracks and insures documents are reconciled and make it into the right patient file.
In simplest terms, these newer EHR and PM technologies can enable physicians to transmit an image directly from a laptop, a scanner, email or mobile device, and the recipient can receive the transmittal via encrypted eFax directly into the EHR or Practice Management program. Some applications also allow the recipient to be alerted through text message, email or other means that a document has been sent.
While retaining the advantages of the traditional fax, these software-based programs bring their own benefits to the table. Depending on what business machines are involved, software-based faxing can reduce paper and toner use, avoid problems with busy signals and provide more secure transmittal with less room for human error. There is also the advantage of the sender not having to move to a fax machine to send a communication.
Making the Switch
In addition, the Center of Medicare and Medicaid Services has called for an end of fax machines by the end of 2020. It’s not just fax machines, a large amount of providers are still falling behind in the switch to modern technology. While fax machines may not disappear from healthcare facilities any time soon, providers like the University of Kansas Hospital and Denver Health Central Fill Pharmacy are capitalizing on the convenience and efficiency of new fax technologies. These healthcare providers are finding they can still safeguard patient information while enjoying ease of communication.
The New York Times discusses how public health officials are struggling to keep up with fax machines in the midst of coronavirus test results and patient information. The article mentions how the Harris County Public Health department in Texas was overwhelmed as batches of test results began to spew all over the floor from their fax machine. The lack of digital reporting and transmission is becoming glaringly obvious in front of the splintered healthcare system as coronavirus pushes it to its max. While pre-pandemic times saw the majority of healthcare information being transmitted online, the need for large amount of constant testing has brought other players into the mix, forcing a mix of fax machine and digital reports.