Fax Proving to Be a Bottleneck in C-19 Fight

The Healthcare Industry’s Go-To “Technology” Is a Nightmare for Large-Scale Information Exchange

07/20/2020

 

The COVID-19 crisis has put into sharp relief a lot of the technological shortcomings that organizations have been living with. Easy access to files and mission-critical applications for remote workers? Nope. A conferencing system that everyone actually knows how to use so clients and colleagues can meet and collaborate? We’ll get right on that. End-to-end digital workflow processes to eliminate paper? Maybe in time for the next pandemic.

 

And then there’s fax. Long past its prime as a cutting-edge communications technology, fax has managed to hang on in certain industries—healthcare chief among them. The push toward electronic health records, funded in part by the stimulus packages passed during the 2008 financial meltdown (remember when worldwide crises involved people only losing their homes? Ah, the good ol’ days…), helped somewhat. But plenty of forms, doctors’ orders, prescriptions, and other paperwork still travel to and fro via fax. In normal times, the sight of a dedicated fax machine or fax-equipped MFP dutifully spitting out the occasional faxed document is quaint. But when tens of thousands of documents need to be sent to a central location so coronavirus cases and other details can be tallied, well, “Houston, we have a problem.”

 

Or more specifically, the Harris County Public Health department in Houston. As the New York Times reported, for officials trying to manage the outbreak, a weak link in the information chain is the office’s MFP-resident fax machine. Test labs, hospitals, doctor’s offices, and other front-line entities are supposed to submit results and other information to the county’s offices (this is happening across the country). Much of that information does arrive seamlessly through electronic data feeds but, given the non-standardized patchwork of systems in place, too much of it still arrives via fax. Officials in the Harris County office reported hundreds of pages spewing from the MFP and onto the floor after a test lab submitted a large batch or results. Photos of the office show stacks of paper adjacent to file cabinets that have been (or need to be) processed manually.    

 

Stacks that arrived via fax sit piled in the Harris County (Texas) Public Health department’s offices.
(Credit: Tony Castaneda at Harris County Public Health)

 

The reason fax persists in healthcare, legal, finance, real estate, and other heavily regulated industries is because a signed document sent via fax (as opposed to sent via email) is considered as legally binding as the original, and fax is considered secure (as if a ream of personal health records being spewed onto the floor is secure, but whatever…).

 

There are alternatives to paper fax, of course, and one of the most promising for the healthcare industry is Direct Secure Messaging (called “Direct” for short). With Direct, healthcare providers registered with the network can send and receive scans, files, images, and data securely, and data can live digitally from inception or (for offices that still use paper forms, for example) converted from paper to electronic at the point of origin and then remain in electronic form. With traditional fax, a piece of paper is digitized on one end and then turned back into analog paper at the other. And more often than not, someone then turns the information back into digital form by entering it manually or re-scanning the document.

 

Millions of healthcare providers are currently registered with trusted Direct networks. For document imaging equipment dealers and makers, solutions such as those from Kno2 integrate directly with compatible MFPs so that healthcare knowledge workers can keep the work processes they are already used to. Just instead of selecting the fax function at the MFP, they would press the Direct button.

 

It is human nature (and too common among businesses) that big change doesn’t happen without a crisis. Maybe one of the good things that can come out of this pandemic is the permanent shift away from fax and movement to a secure, electronic, and easy-to-use technology like Direct.