Recent comments around the industry about the demise of faxing in healthcare may be premature. Originally posted on 05/12/2019 updated on 03/03/2021.
Fax is still a frequently used method for sending patient information in healthcare. Although other forms of communication and data transmission are growing, fax remains a widely adopted and steadily used method for sending critical information between hospitals and providers. In a report from the ONC, about 70% of hospitals surveyed said they continued to use mail or fax for sending and receiving summary of care records.
Common use cases include transmitting lab results from hospital labs to ordering providers, sharing radiology and pathology reports, and transmitting hospital discharge summaries to providers and post-acute care facilities. Some providers also still use fax to send referrals to other providers, largely because they provide targeted information rather than information overload.
One reason there are still relevant use cases for faxing in healthcare is that the mode of communication depends heavily on the capabilities of the recipient, and fax machines represent an almost universal fixture in many physician practices and post-acute care facilities, who may not have other options that fit their workflows, or even EMR systems to receive the information electronically.
Challenges of Moving Away From Faxing
Another reason is that interoperability remains challenging between different vendor systems with many different standards and methods in use, and slight variations between vendor implementations that can be difficult for physician practices to navigate with limited resources. If the information coming across the interface is not filed correctly and ends up in a central queue for staff to review and sort, there are a few benefits of so-called automation.
Furthermore, doctors' offices still consider fax machines more secure than email for transmitting HIPAA-protected health information (PHI), since a breach could cost providers dearly. Compromising a single fax transmission is viewed as less severe than hacking an entire system of digital records. So, while fax may be more vulnerable in individual instances, in the aggregate, it maybe more secure. Here's a good summary about why faxing is still relevant in healthcare.
A rapidly growing trend is the shift from traditional fax platforms to cloud fax solutions. This approach helps to automate the routing and delivery of fax transmissions over the Internet via cloud platforms. The messages can be sent to email applications, multifunction printers, mobile apps, secure web portals or embedded within workflow applications. Faxes transit the Internet via encrypted tunnels, while faxes in storage are also encrypted for security and compliance, with delivery confirmations that provide a clear audit trail. Cloud faxing lends itself to higher levels of automation, particularly when integrated within workflow application.
Looking to 2022 and Beyond
Fax remains a reliable method for data transfer among providers and likely will remain that way past 2022, in spite of the recent comments from CMS and ONC officials calling for its demise. Although this may be the ultimate vision, the practical reality is that fax is still widely used in healthcare because it meets many user needs, the technology continues to advance with the transition to cloud faxing and there are no mandates to replace it.