Recent comments around the industry about the demise of faxing in healthcare may be premature.
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.
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.
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.
Further, 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.
Looking to 2020 and Beyond
Fax remains many providers' 'old reliable' method for data transfer and likely will remain that way past 2020, 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 and there are no mandates to replace it.