Before we begin, I’d like to ask everyone under the age of 30 to do something for me, and if you don’t fit that category, then ask a younger coworker for their assistance to do the following.
Send a fax.
In most industries, and in most places around the United States, the expected and most reasonable reaction to such a request would be confusion. In an era of email, texting and approximately 100,000 instant messaging apps, why would you fax?
For most people, the fax machine has gone the way of the floppy disk, the VHS tape and the landline telephone. Yet faxing remains a primary means of communication in the healthcare industry.
Hospitals use it to securely transmit information about patients from one facility to another, with the technology so firmly ingrained within workflows that many organizations don’t have an alternative.
This leads to a startling but all too common side effect in the discharge process known as BINGE FAXING.
Binge Faxing is what occurs when an acute facility needs to find the right post-acute provider to send their patient. In order to ensure that all prospective care facilities fully understand the patient’s clinical needs, dozens of pages have to be faxed, with the steps repeated ad nauseam for each facility. It’s a process that usually leads to a bored and shell-shocked millennial standing at a fax machine for hours on end, sending and receiving communications, wondering how the healthcare world got stranded in 1975.
But thanks to a combination of automated referral management, enhanced cybersecurity measures, mobile messaging and seamless integration of all of the above, it’s now possible to cure binge-faxing and, eventually, do away with the archaic system of faxing entirely.
The Arguments for Faxing (And Why They Don’t Hold Up)
One of the biggest defenses of the fax machine is its apparent security.
It seems like once a week there’s news of another data breach of a well-known brand, and this kind of major breach could have punitive consequences and spell financial disaster for a healthcare organization. It’s little wonder then that many organizations have stuck with faxing, especially considering that HIMSS still categorizes it as a secure means of communicating PHI. In a weird way, the analog nature of faxes and other older tech is exactly what makes it appealing from a security standpoint (just ask the United States government, which is still phasing out the floppy disks used to control its nuclear arsenal, in part because they’re basically unhackable).
Still, that doesn’t exactly mean that the fax is secure. For starters, you could be faxing to a machine sitting in the middle of a room where anyone could walk by. Second, you can type the wrong number or the fax number can change. We know of one instance where a patient’s PHI was sent to a hoagie shop, leading to some very confused sandwich artists.
Interestingly, many clinics continue to use faxing because it’s part of their workflow and they’re comfortable with it. But the truth is, the person suffering from binge-faxing would much rather spend their time doing what they were trained to do – help patients and their families.
Facilities can’t expect their younger team members to react with anything but negativity to using a fax machine. This harms engagement and leads your workforce to consider the possibility of working somewhere that doesn’t require them to use the equivalent of the telegraph for the modern world. Today’s professionals entering the workforce want to feel valued and that their work has greater purpose. Having a meaningful relationship with a fax machine was not on their career bucket list.
Finally, there’s the cost and time argument. The word technology conjures up dollar signs in the mind of any hospital CIO or CFO. Along with that comes the notion that it will take valuable resources away from other IT initiatives within the hospital.
But quite the opposite is true. When you combine the labor hours spent binge-faxing, the cost of materials and repairs, and increased length of stay, the price of faxing tends to be much higher than what it costs to implement an automated system.
We’re not saying the transition is going to happen overnight. But transition you must.
The great thing about switching to an email- and internet-based communications system is that it accommodates those facilities that do still rely on fax.
Historically, this has held up numerous organizations from retiring the fax machine. After all, what’s the use of switching to an automated electronic system if those other facilities we communicate with won’t accept an emailed patient record?
With software to power care coordination communication, it’s possible to do two things that solve this problem. The first is to receive incoming faxes as an electronic communication. That way, those facilities that do still communicate via fax don’t hold you back from more efficient workflows. Second, you are able to scan in a patient’s referral packet one time, then simultaneously send to all qualified facilities, even ones that still use fax as their primary means of communication, rather than repeating the process over and over and over.
Think of how much time this saves for that poor employee who was previously stuck standing by the fax machine. What could have taken hours now takes just a few minutes. You can fax to everyone you need to at the touch of a button and, if you’re waiting on faxes, you can receive email alerts as they come in rather than having to pick up a piece of paper again and again.
When you adopt a modern means of sending data, you’ll start to see a trend take shape. As more and more facilities invest in internet-based communications, the fax will recede to memory, and it won’t be long until faxers are in the minority. Workflows will improve even further as hospitals and clinics enter a new era of information exchange, one that gives healthcare workers more time with patients than they had before.
It’s time to give the fax machine the heave-ho. There are arguments for its continued usage, but as you’ve seen, these arguments carry less weight than they used to.
With instant communication software able to facilitate interaction with those organizations still stuck on faxes, thus tearing down the biggest obstacle to widespread adoption of newer forms of technology, the days of Binge Faxing can be put behind us.
That’s the facts about fax in healthcare.