Late last year it was announced that the UK’s National Health Service (NHS) was implementing a plan to phase out fax machines and replace them with digital alternatives by 2020. The key drivers behind this change were improving patient privacy and cybersecurity, both of which are major concerns for the healthcare industry as a whole.
Here in the US, it’s no different. Improving patient privacy and security are high on the healthcare agenda, and given regulatory requirements under HIPAA (The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act), plus pressures to improve interoperability, the sooner fax machines make way for all-digital solutions, the better it will be for healthcare organizations and patients alike.
The transition from analog to digital won’t happen overnight, but as the benefits of eliminating fax machines become more evident, more organizations will be inclined to say goodbye to their ageing analog hardware, and hello to new digital applications.
The Benefits of Digital solutions over legacy analog Fax
Improved data security and privacy
Healthcare organizations that exchange protected health information (PHI) between locations need to ensure that data is protected throughout its entire lifecycle.
Ironically, it was the regulations issued by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) that encouraged the perception of fax compliance by exempting the transmission process from certain aspects of the HIPAA Security Rules. This perception of compliance has led to the persistence of old-fashioned fax in healthcare despite advances in communications technology.
However, fax machines are still covered by the HIPAA Privacy rules, and there are many ways that traditional paper-based fax fails to deliver the requisite privacy. For example, there is a risk of paper documents being left on the output tray of fax machines (or multifunction printers with fax capability), thus leaving the patient’s PHI vulnerable to unauthorized access. Another common source of HIPAA violations is from faxes being sent to the wrong recipient entirely by fax-fingering the fax number on the machine’s keypad. It happens more often than you might think!
Conversely, with a digital paperless solution such as cloud fax or secure mobile messaging, sensitive data is better protected as it passes through several layers of technical and administrative safeguards, including end-to-end encryption and authentication. Finally, users can have peace of mind that any sensitive information they do send or receive will remain protected while in transit and at rest.
With a rising percentage of today’s workforce operating from home, on the road, or remote offices, traditional fax machines have become less convenient. Not only are the machines themselves large and unsightly, but the static nature of the machines makes them highly inflexible because they need to be hard-wired to a landline in order to work. So much for portability!
Modern digital alternatives enable users to securely send, receive, and digitally sign faxes on the go, right in the palm of their hand using a smartphone or tablet, from virtually any location. This, in turn, unchains users from their office, allowing for more flexible and efficient working arrangements.
Used regularly in a busy workplace, the costs associated with running a fax machine can soon mount up – in addition to the initial outlay for the device, there’s paper, ink, toner, software updates, fax lines, electricity bills, service and repair fees to consider.
And that does not even count the hourly wages wasted as employees walk back and forth, waiting while faxes are transmitted and collecting faxes that have to be sorted by the patient and manually entered into the health records. And then all that paper needs to be shredded. Who knew that plain old fax could create so much wasted time and effort, and opening the door for clerical errors as pages get mixed up and inserted into the wrong file? And when mistakes are made, appointments are missed, prescriptions go unfilled and tests do not get ordered.
Alternatively, most cloud fax services can be done at your desktop computer and easily forwarded to the correct destination with no need for printing, scanning or shredding.
Fax is also terrible for the environment. One report estimates that in a single year, 150 billion papers are used for faxing purposes in the U.S. alone. That’s a lot of trees. What’s more, traditional fax machines need to be permanently running in order to receive faxes, further impacting the environment through excessive electricity consumption. In a world where ‘going paperless’ is a key corporate objective, eliminating old-fashioned faxing is one of the best ways organizations can cut unnecessary consumption and waste by going green.
Not only is the physical nature of traditional fax highly impractical in modern healthcare environments, but the process of faxing is also time-consuming, often unreliable, and can carry security vulnerabilities.
Alternatively, cloud services enable people to work efficiently and securely across multiple locations using multiple devices. Documents can even be edited and managed within a mobile app, helping to streamline workflows and productivity for seamless communication and collaboration.
While traditional fax machines have been an integral part of healthcare office infrastructure for the past few decades, for innovative and forward-looking organizations, they are becoming more of a hindrance than a help. As healthcare looks to a digital future, it is clearly time to say goodbye to the fax machine.