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Health Segment Checks Out in Great Shape for Electronic Fax

by Scott Riley
Scott Riley
Founder and CEO – Scott Riley Mr. Riley has 23 years of experience in the Engin
User is currently offline
on Jan 31 in FaxServer


It is 2011, and faxing in the healthcare market continues to check out in great shape as hospitals, insurers, payment processors, laboratories, and medical product manufacturers all use fax servers and fax services to move documents confidentially.  With fax servers and fax services, documents typically arrive in secure fax to e-mail or fax client applications, or directly into healthcare management systems, so no one can read patient information except authorized users.  Fax immediately converts paper documents into electronic documents at the source.

In the health arena, a critical issue is the Health Information Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).  According to HIPAA, email is not secure enough to transmit confidential patient information without adding extra security requirements that can be expensive and difficult to manage. Email can be intercepted and read too easily, thus violating a patient’s right to confidentiality. Fax supports HIPAA because senders can validate themselves as the party sending the information with electronic delivery confirmation, which email fails to do.  And faxes can be tracked through audit trails.  Faxing is the primary form of electronic document transmission acceptable under HIPAA, and it enhances providers’ and payers’ ability to meet and prove service level agreements.

Fax used in health organizations include prescriptions, enrollment forms, eligibility, healthcare payment and remittance advice, health plan premium payments, referrals, benefit coordination, and claims.

Hospitals use fax to transmit sensitive information. Fax can reduce HIPAA violations significantly. One use for fax is the immediate transmission of physicians' medication orders from nursing areas to a hospital pharmacy. By transmitting such data instantly, order processing turnaround time is significantly decreased – a distinct productivity gain, many times critical to patient care.  Hospitals also need a reliable, efficient way to transmit the high volume of physician medication orders from the nursing stations to the pharmacy and, at the same time, a method that would decrease processing turnaround time.   Fax servers provide quick access to reports, test results and other information vital to patients' care.

Also, for example, while a cardiac patient is in the office, physicians now are able to perform an electrocardiogram, stress test, or other tests and fax them to other cardiologists or vascular surgeons to confer on diagnosis and treatment. Laboratories also fax test results directly to physician offices enabling treatment to begin immediately. Simultaneously, doctors are able to obtain a consultation from a subspecialist regarding patient care, allowing the patient to obtain treatment without loss of precious time.  So, hospitals are typically connected by fax to physician offices, laboratories, cardiology, surgery, admitting, rehabilitation, radiology, emergency room and nursing care offices.

Many hospitals use fax to link nursing stations, the pharmacy, the admissions office, burn center, cardiology, and emergency department to transmit prescription orders, lab and test results, and patient data.  Faxing is still one of the most cost-efficient and timely ways to communicate with customers. Faxing offers the ability to quickly turn around invoices and informational requests to manage billing requirements.

Even if health care professionals could use email, many would still opt for fax.  They do not like their email in-boxes filled with information they’d prefer handled by their staffs.  As a result, many physicians guard their email addresses as if they were the secret to the universe, giving them out only to a select few.

Another reason for the preference for faxing in healthcare is that many providers still use paper charts, which is the one reason President Obama is pushing to move to electronic medical records. If a paper record needs to be forwarded from one provider to another, or to the same provider working out of multiple locations (two offices, a clinic, a hospital, etc.), an easy way to get it there is to fax it.

As a result of the HITECH Act, beginning in 2011, Medicare will pay physicians annual incentives of no more than $18,000 for being an EHR user, which will be reduced year by year.  Physician payment reductions of up to 3% will involve decreases in Medicare Part B payments to physicians who have not become meaningful EHR users by 2015. Beginning in 2018, Medicare Part B payments may be decreased by an additional 1% for each year up to 5% only, if DHHS finds that the proportion of physicians adopting meaningful EHR is lower than 75%.    Some physicians may show that becoming a meaningful EHR user would be a significant hardship and will be able to gain exemptions for up to five years after 2017, or until 2022, assuming there are not further delays enacted by the legislation.

So even after 2017, fax will likely remain a dominant communications method as it will retain its simplicity and confidentiality edge.  Physicians will face a cost/benefit reality where using fax may be preferable to switching to an EHR.  Besides, fax servers and services allow the same patient information that is faxed to physicians to automatically and simultaneously be stored as electronic documents into an EHR system.  In other words, fax interconnects disparate health care organizations without complicated technology, while still integrating into existing and new EHR systems as electronic and digitized documents. 

In fact, a study published in 2008 in the New England Journal of Medicine looked at almost 3,000 hospitals across the country, finding that only 1.5% had adopted comprehensive electronic systems throughout their facilities and only 7.6% had basic systems in at least one clinical unit.  Technical problems, expense and culture change are among the biggest reasons why hospitals do not upgrade their systems.   Technologies run into a range of problems. Some technology is too slow or reduces productivity, some is difficult to implement, other systems require costly training, and some physicians are resistant to change. Health industry information technology (IT) systems do not work out about 30% of the time, according to a February, 2008 article in the Journal of Usability Studies.

The major barrier for health IT systems may be cost. Seventy-three percent of hospital respondents in the NEJM article said they did not have enough capital for the systems, and 44% were concerned about the maintenance costs.

Fax reliably interconnects healthcare professionals with simplicity, while delivering information securely, efficiently, and at very low cost.  This is despite the long-haul investments in complicated patient information systems which do not necessarily address all the information exchange requirements for patient healthcare.

So in health care, electronic fax’s prognosis is a long and continued life.


© 2010 One Touch Global Technologies, Inc. (www.otgt.com).  All rights reserved.

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About the author

Scott Riley

Founder and CEO – Scott Riley
Mr. Riley has 23 years of experience in the Engineering and Computer Industry, and founded One Touch Global Technologies, Inc., in 1990 for the purpose of creating, delivering and managing electronic documents. Scott has a degree in Electrical and Computer Engineering and served as a commissioned U.S. Naval Officer with specialized training as a Civil Engineer for Construction Management, Contract Acquisition and Administration, serving as an assistant Public Works Office and Staff Civil Engineer. Prior to being commissioned, Scott also worked as a contract electrical engineer at Naval Oceans System Center. Beginning in 1992 under Scott's direction, One Touch Global published two key products for the faxing industry, the first called ProFax which thrived as a pioneer product for the construction industry. Later TargetFax was introduced to continue a long standing vision of automating the world of electronic documents, and fits in the overall solution category of computerizing paper and business transactions.
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