Fax technology slotted in perfectly with paper processes and quickly revolutionized the way that information was communicated. Within a few years of introduction, fax machines were cheap, good quality, and virtually ubiquitous. However, because they were so successfully adopted, faxes also created dependencies in terms of the way that organizations shared information between one another.
In a report by Healthcare IT News, a new study by HIMSS Analytics examined the current state of information exchange among U.S. hospitals and found that if a hospital was not participating in a health information exchange (HIO), 64% of data sharing was conducted via fax. In addition, 63% of the same HIOs processed faxed information into an electronic format via scanning. This is a common phenomenon in physician offices. Reports and related information are transmitted between practices by fax. In those practices, running EMRs, if the faxes are not received electronically using a fax modem, they are scanned into the EMR setting up a repetitive cycle of printing and digitization.
Achieving widespread information exchange means getting beyond the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” thinking that is also prevalent. The first prerequisite is that a viable information exchange option exists; the second, that one is willing to give up existing dependable processes that are an integral part of workflow. Despite producing a lot of paper, fax technology is very efficient and dependable; however, there are ways to integrate faxing effectively into an electronic workflow. If you are not yet using a fax server with your EMR software, or even standalone, this should be seriously considered. In a 2012 article on CanadianEMR, “Do You Need a Fax Server for Your Practice?” this topic was covered in some detail and is well worth reading.
Bottom line: Because we do not yet have widespread data interoperability between different EMRs and between multiple providers and sites within the healthcare system, faxing will likely be around for some time. The best strategy is to optimize your existing setting, integrate electronic faxing into your workflow process, and be prepared to transition tasks that currently require fax technology once other sites are set up for different forms of data exchange.