Are Providers Ready For The End of Fax?

By Michael Morgan, CEO, Updox.

Michael Morgan

Very few businesses today use fax machines, yet more than 9 billion faxes are still sent every year in healthcare, according to DirectTrust. Eighty percent of all serious medical mistakes result from poor communication, which includes fax. Simply put, every industry decreased or eliminated its reliance on the fax machine over the past decade – except healthcare. Beyond fax, healthcare’s dependence on manual communications is costly, inefficient and brings serious security risks.

According to Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) Administrator Seema Verma, there is no place left for the antiquated fax machine. In 2018, she issued a bold vision to transform patient care by improving communication and data exchange. She challenged the industry to make doctors’ offices “a fax-free zone” by 2020.

Why not push healthcare to go beyond that? Let’s look at all the ways inefficiencies and “doing things the way they’ve always been done” are holding healthcare back with manual processes, repetitive tasks and increasing frustration.

To replace fax, we must look at why it’s still being used. Fax is easy. Fax numbers are already programmed and shared. Faxes (usually) go directly to the recipient. But, the costs associated with faxing keep growing. The process isn’t efficient and it’s not at all secure in today’s HIPAA-compliant environment.

Yet, reports say nearly 90% of hospitals still rely on fax. Change is a challenge. Fax machines must become a thing of the past in order to bring healthcare fully into the 21st century. As those machines are eliminated, healthcare providers still need a way to exchange information and transfer documents. The need to exchange documents isn’t going to change but the way that is done – to ensure efficiency and security – has to change.

Are providers of all sizes ready for the end of an era? Understanding the true value and efficiency of eliminating fax is critical, but it has to be replaced with a solution that actually makes it easier.

Benefits Beyond Cost Savings

While physicians and staff are familiar and comfortable with using traditional faxing, this old school approach is an inefficient and costly part of both independent practices and health systems alike. Redundant work processes, like inputting information from faxes into electronic health record (EHR) systems, severely hampers productivity and profitability.

On average, providers spend upwards of 55 hours per month manually faxing based on a customer engagement survey by Updox. And for every 5,000 fax pages sent or received, a practice spends about $155 in supplies, including paper, toner, phone lines and shredding costs.

Plus, there are patient privacy and security concerns when using faxes. In recent years, researchers have discovered security flaws that can leave entire networks vulnerable from malicious faxes. Manual errors, too, result in protected patient information getting sent to the wrong number, which could lead to HIPAA violations and fines costing hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Taking advantage of a universal way to communicate and exchange documents, no matter what the person on the other end of the exchange is using, is key to avoiding these problems. Exchanging information electronically offers providers the opportunity to eliminate waste while saving time and money.

It’s all about the user experience. Electronic exchange and the right UI also enables documents to be more valuable. They can be combined with other documents, routed to queues for review and signatures and easily filed. All in a secure way and no papers.

Eliminating faxes, and moving toward web-based communication, is just the first step for healthcare providers to realize the benefits of more efficient workflows and improve their security procedures. There are other ways to go digital that will introduce even more cost and time savings and improve security and the patient experience.

What’s Next? Putting Down the Phone

Eliminating fax automates a lot of the manual provider to provider communications, but a problem that is just as big or bigger is all of the phone calls a practice has to deal with every day. And if a call results in a voicemail, it takes a lot of time to transcribe, call back and manage.

The phone is equally outdated and ready for change. Most of us use mobile phones for everything but an actual phone call. In fact, for many, our preferred communication is text or video. Why not use that same communication channel in healthcare?

Maybe it’s a symptom of too many robocalls, or just a preference for quick communications, but a Jive Communications study reported that 61% of Americans regularly don’t answer phone calls. And, 98% of users open SMS messages. Since patients aren’t picking up the phone anymore, the manual labor and time it takes to make those calls tend to be budget-crushing for practices and eat up a lot of staff time that could be directed toward delivering better patient care.

By implementing text and video, providers and patients can easily communicate in just a few minutes, avoiding the time (and money) wasted playing phone tag or the rework required by leaving voicemails that go unheard.

Healthcare doesn’t need to be – and can no longer afford to be – business as usual. For an industry that relies so much on research, data, test groups and studies, all evidence supports the high cost and security risks that inefficient faxing brings to healthcare. Trading out fax machines for secure solutions and substituting text messages and video consults for unanswered phone calls helps practices become more efficient in how they operate their businesses and frees up time to focus on more direct patient care. More importantly, it creates an overall better, more impactful and more satisfying experience for staff, providers and patients.

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