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Fax machines might not be long for the world, but healthcare can still use them.
With all the communications advances in recent years, it may surprise you to hear that fax use is actually increasing. According to the International Data Group (IDG), healthcare showed 9 percent growth in digital fax usage in 2017.
Modern fax solutions have evolved to send faxes via software and internet connections. Using the Fax over IP (FoIP) protocol, these systems are literally fax without the machine — a provider or insurer can send an electronic fax from and to a multifunction device, computer, tablet or mobile phone. They’re more reliable, more compliant, better at automatic recordkeeping and cheaper than traditional fax machine uses.
But why are more healthcare organizations faxing in the era of electronic records?
Electronic health record systems (EHR) systems have revolutionized how providers store, access and edit medical records, but software providers have taken a “walled garden” approach where solutions won’t communicate directly with their competitors’ systems. That means an intermediary is required.
Laws like HIPAA and GDPR have made regulatory compliance the bedrock of healthcare communications. Organizations that have breaches (from the outside or inside, intentional or accidental) suffer serious financial damage through severe fines, lost reputation and lost business.
Communications containing protected health information must be secured. The only question is, what’s the best way to do so?
Just like the telephone, fax still maintains a “killer app” that other secure information communications mediums have yet to touch: universality.
As long as someone has a phone number and a receiving system (software or machine), you can fax them something.
The same cannot be true of most of the alternatives on the market. From an “anyone-can-receive-it” perspective, the closest alternative we have to fax is email, which is inherently insecure. That means you have to bolt on an extra layer of complex software and functionality to make email (or something like email) safe and HIPAA/GDPR compliant. The more you have to add to the system, the less likely it is that the person on the other end will be able to access the message.
Most file-sharing services are either insecure or require both sides of the conversation to have the same software, accounts and service. This may be fine if your organization is communicating with a business you work with on a daily basis, but when you’re trying to send someone’s medical records to an independent pharmacy, a new provider or a small town where they need emergency care, aligning software solutions is a hassle no one needs.
The fax’s peer-to-peer nature and transmission over phone networks makes it secure and difficult to intercept in a way that complies with privacy law requirements. As long as you don’t have to deal with physical fax machines, transmitting documents in full compliance doesn’t get much easier.
Fax will eventually be replaced, but a proper alternative will need to be as secure, compliant with regulations and ubiquitous on a global scale.
In the meantime, fax is an essential tool in the healthcare provider’s communication portfolio. Even if an organization has been limping along with inadequate machines, there are modern alternatives available on the market, such as FoIP solutions, that can deliver on the medium’s promise.
Sébastien Boire-Lavigne is the general manager of data solutions at XMedius.
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