Cable television is obsolete. VHS and cassette tapes are novelty throwbacks to a different time. Most kids couldn’t tell you what a landline is.
Yet, for all that, healthcare still relies on the fax machine, a similarly dated tech artifact, as a critical part of the transmission of information.
This needs to end. Visit any healthcare IT conference or read any trade publication, and you come away excited about the possibilities of artificial intelligence, machine learning, robotics, genomics and the many ways in which experts are pushing the limits of what’s possible. But it doesn’t take much time actually navigating the healthcare space to be brought back down to the real world, where clinics, hospitals and the wide array of secondary and tertiary services that support the healthcare field continue to use an outdated mode of data transmission that other industries have sailed past.
Think this isn’t a problem? Think again. As with so many other things, the pandemic has exposed the weaknesses in our overall healthcare system, and the industry’s blind spot for faxing falls within that. The New York Times recently ran a story outlining how an overreliance on faxing has hindered our country’s overall response to the pandemic. The major issue is that test results (and, in turn, contact tracing) are being delayed largely due to the number of organizations whose only means of communicating information is via fax. This issue hits public health departments, whose strained budgets have prevented widespread adoption of digital solutions, particularly hard.
I’ve long talked about healthcare’s need to move away from this piece of archaic technology, but admittedly, the incentive for doing so always existed in a somewhat nebulous space. Yes, transmitting information more quickly can create a better experience for staff, faster results for patients and an overall more efficient system. But it’s only now that we’re really seeing the true cost of relying so deeply on a bygone technology.
This should serve as a long-overdue wake-up call to the healthcare field to move away from the fax, to digitize their records and to enter into the ecosystem of health IT applications that can make data transmission safer and more efficient than would ever be possible using a fax machine and physical storage.
Still, making that move is easier said than done. That’s why, if your own workplace suffers from team members constantly feeding information into a fax or standing idly by waiting for reams of paper to come through, you can follow a few guidelines to right the ship.
1. Electronic Fax Solutions: If your reliance on a fax machine is a result of members of your preferred network being unwilling or unable to transition to fully electronic communications, solutions are available to help you move away from fax yet still receive and send faxes to those organizations. PCMag has a great feature that highlights some of these solutions.
2. Seek EHR Recommendations: True interoperability remains just out of reach, even as FHIR standards offer guidance to help app and software developers securely transmit data between disparate systems. But with work left to be done, you can increase your ability to move away from fax by communicating with providers in your area to find out what EHRs they’re using, garnering recommendations for plotting your own transition.
3. Begin The EHR Process: There’s a saying, usually used in regard to climate change: “The best time to start preparing is yesterday. The second-best time is now.” Making the transition to an EHR is a long road, but you can make it easier on yourself by starting now. Begin your work on a request for proposals (RFP). Shop around various vendors, and invest in scanning technology to start the process of digitizing the records currently stored in your facility.
4. Get An IT Checkup: Specialists and entire companies now exist to help clinics, hospitals and various healthcare support facilities ensure they’re set up to provide a safe, secure electronic experience. In addition to the various safeguards that come along with an EHR, you’ll want to conduct a thorough IT security check of your facility. Investments into VPNs, cloud storage, malware protection and other IT infrastructure can help to ensure there’s no breakdown in patient privacy on your end.
5. Adapt Your Policies To Fit The New Paradigm: So much of fax overreliance comes down to simple inertia. Physicians and other personnel continue to rely on fax because that’s the way it’s always been done, and combatting that is difficult. Involve key decision-makers in your new processes, and make sure their voices are heard, while still keeping your sights on the goal of moving away from fax. Decide on a gradual move away or a hardline switch, and make sure your training and policies account for the new procedures.
We may never fully remove faxing from the healthcare scene, but by beginning the work now, we can embark on a process of modernizing our infrastructure in a way that helps patients and makes us all more efficient.
Originally posted on Forbes Technology Council (view original).