Is Fax Dead in Healthcare?
The word “fax” has some pretty outdated connotations within today’s highly mobile and technologically savvy workforce. When people think fax, it may invoke a flashback of standing in front of a jammed machine as they attempt another go at sending a single page for the 6th time, or trying to get an urgent document over to a waiting recipient, only to discover that the receiving fax machine is out of ink. Regardless of the reputation fax has for being obsolete tech, the reality is that fax usage in many industries is still rising, not dropping, and faxing itself no longer means having to rely on outdated machines.
If you’ve pondered the question “Who still faxes in 2018?” the straightforward answer is that many businesses rely on fax for their day-to-day operations.
In The International Data Corporation’s (IDC) 2017 fax survey, 82% of respondents in the Finance, Healthcare, Manufacturing, Legal, and Government sectors saw fax usage go up or remain consistent compared to the previous year. The average growth of fax usage across the board was 27%, with a quarter of companies in these sectors reporting growth between 50-74% – a very far cry from the statement that “fax is dead”!
Fax is far from dead. Not only is it still widely used, it has evolved into a digitized medium that integrates seamlessly with interfaces that most of us use regularly, like email. While fax machines may remain for a little while longer, their use is no longer synonymous with faxing itself. Fax-over-internet-protocol (FoIP) technology has revolutionized communications, allowing for increased security, mobility, and ease-of-use. Read on for an overview of how and why fax has remained commonplace in the healthcare industry.
The Role of Compliance in Healthcare Faxing
The healthcare industry’s wide use of fax has a lot to do with regulatory compliance, namely with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, or HIPAA, which was passed by the US Congress in 1996. Navigating the details of regulatory compliance can get overwhelming: when it comes to secure data transmission, what does HIPAA actually say? The HIPAA Privacy Rule was enacted in 2001, shedding a little more light on exactly how healthcare organizations should protect patient data. It urges healthcare professionals to take “reasonable safeguards” when sharing patient files between hospitals, labs, doctors’ offices, and insurance providers.
The US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) clearly names fax as an essential method of transmitting medical records, test results, and anything else containing personally identifiable information (PII). This is not to say that email isn’t widely used as well, but there are tremendous security risks that come along with using email to send and receive sensitive files.
A quick “healthcare data breach” search in Google will reveal the startling number of phishing scams and email hacks that take place in the industry almost every day. While there are secure email servers galore available on the market, these platforms are often reserved for larger healthcare corporations or hospital networks since they are often too costly or complicated for the average healthcare provider.
EHR/EMR Systems and Paperless Faxing
The advent of Electronic Health Record and Electronic Medical Record (EHR/EMR) systems have completely changed the healthcare records management landscape. Not only is electronic record management in accordance with HIPAA’s efforts to digitize the healthcare environment, it provides a safer means for storing data. Electronic record keeping also allows healthcare professionals to minimize human error while taking full advantage of cost savings.
As technology advances, EHR/EMR systems vendors now offer on-site or cloud data hosting options, and the systems themselves provide improved coordination between healthcare providers, even granting patients the ability to access their records online. They’ve progressively become more prevalent in healthcare facilities of all sizes – It’s estimated that 77% of today’s healthcare providers have moved their records into the digital sphere.
Fax-over-Internet-Protocol (FoIP) technology has also evolved over time, with many vendors offering seamless integration with today’s EHR/EMR systems. From a user perspective, sending a fax is now as simple as pushing a button on the interface they already use every day. This eliminates the need for paper filing and simplifies the data transmission process since documents no longer need to be printed or scanned to before users hit send.
Healthcare Carries the Highest Digital Fax Adoption Rate
Healthcare showed 9% growth in digital fax usage in 2017. Right now, in healthcare facilities across North America, GPs, surgeons, nurses and other staff are putting a sensitive document in a fax tray, pressing send, and listening to the cringey audio-frequency tones that signify their information being transmitted one page per minute. Of course, not all medical records are sent through fax machines – many healthcare organizations have digitized their faxing or are in the process of doing so. In fact, the healthcare industry leads the pack for transitioning to modern FoIP technology, representing a whopping 30% contribution to the fax services global market in 2017.
Confirmations of Receipt: From Paper Trail to Audit Trail
The fact that faxing gives organizations confirmation of receipt is a major reason that it remains a prevalent form of communication. For years, the confirmation page (the printout that lets users know that their message has been completely received) has served as a faster and cheaper equivalent of sending registered mail. Most email systems come equipped with a read receipt feature, but these typically still give recipients the choice to opt out.
For healthcare organizations who send and receive large volumes of sensitive data daily, confirmations of receipt offer several benefits:
- They eliminate both administrative and IT guesswork (follow-up calls, manual logging)
- They facilitate easy records keeping
When it comes to dealing with sensitive patient information, confirmations of receipt are necessary from both an administrative and regulatory compliance perspective. Today, medical staff have a few ways of maintaining a paper trail of how, when, and to whom patient data is exchanged. While physical paper filing might be a slightly outdated practice, it remains a reliable system for some healthcare organizations. Many use document scanners or multifunction printers (MFPs) to scan confirmations of receipt and file them electronically.
Healthcare facilities who have implemented FoIP solutions, however, often do so for their built-in records keeping features. XM Fax, for example, is designed to keep an audit trail of all fax transmissions, maintaining detailed records that can generate reports any time. Not only does this free up time for healthcare administration, it alleviates healthcare IT of having to use additional software to log communications.
FoIP for Savings
In addition to security and compliance benefits, switching to FoIP can bring significant savings as well. Switching organizations regularly reduce costs by eliminating expensive analog fax lines and paper filing/waste. IT departments love being able to get rid of high-maintenance fax machines in favor of more reliable software and MFP integration.
Beyond the IT and accounting departments, FoIP is a win for the rest of the staff too. Staff members across Healthcare report significant time savings between reducing/eliminating trips to machines, no longer waiting for acknowledgement receipts, and incoming faxes automatically being routed directly to them, wherever they are.
Fax Isn’t Dead, It’s Evolving
Discover how fax software can improve the security and compliance of your healthcare document transmissions. Speak with one of our knowledgeable experts today about how FoIP solutions could work for you.