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Healthcare Fax: Taking Outdated (and Dangerous) Technology out of Healthcare Practices

fax machine

If you were buying a cell phone, you most likely wouldn’t go with the oldest model available. You also wouldn’t let your dentist pull a tooth simply because you have a cavity. And you certainly wouldn’t spend 11 days on a boat to get to England when you could fly there in a matter of hours. 

Why do I bring these things up? A lot of this is common sense, right? And how does this relate to medical practices, anyhow? Easy… Over time, technology changes.  These changes allow us to work smarter, become more efficient, and perform our jobs better. 

But when it comes to a medical records release process, many (if not most) healthcare organizations seem to be stuck in the 80s—sending and receiving private patient information over incredibly insecure and unpredictable fax machine systems. 

In fact, a 2017 study found that fax machines account for 75% of all medical communication. Why is this a problem and what can be done to fix it?

The Facts about Fax Machines

Fax machines became popular in the 1980s and were used everywhere from medical facilities to business offices. At the time, using a fax machine was a great way to send documents from place to place in a fast manner, without having to rely on sending documents via the postal service. 

That being said, all systems have their faults. Before we point out complications that come with using a fax machine, let’s take a second to break down how faxes work.

Step 1: A fax machine scans your document.
Step 2: The machine transfers the image of that document into a signal.
Step 3: The signal is virtually transferred down a telephone line to another fax machine.
Step 4: The receiving fax machine decodes the signal and reproduces the document.

Why Fax Machines Aren’t Optimal for Medical Records Release Processing 

two tall stacks of files and documents

Now that you have a refresher on how fax machines work, it’s time to take a look into why they are not the optimal system for releasing secure patient medical records. 

Here are a few things to consider…

Consideration #1 – Phone Lines 

In order for a fax to work, phone lines must be kept clear. If a phone line rings, it can easily interrupt a fax being sent out. In this case, it’s possible for only a partial fax to go through or for the fax to not send at all. 

If your fax machine has its own line, that’s great. However, just think about the cost of what you’re spending each month to pay for a phone line just to ensure your faxes go through. 

Consideration #2 – Human Error

Every time a fax needs to be sent, a human must physically retrieve a medical document, scan the document correctly, and alert a third party that the fax is on its way. Because of this process, there’s a lot of room for error. 

For example, it’s possible that someone scanning the document will scan it incorrectly or only scan a partial document. Then, he or she has to ensure that the faxed document actually makes it to the person on the other end. 

After scanning, it’s the responsibility of the person who scanned the documents to put the medical records back where they are safe and secure, instead of leaving them out on a desk or in the fax machine itself for people to find. And remember – a third party must be available to collect the fax once it prints from the machine. 

If the person isn’t sitting at the machine waiting for the fax to come through, it’s possible that someone else could get his or her hands on the private doc. Or, if the doc is left too long in the machine, someone might simply throw it out, thinking it’s trash.

As you can see, there’s not much that is safe or secure about faxing private documents. 

Consideration #3 – Technology Errors 

Technology doesn’t always get it right—especially when we are transferring information over electrical impulses. Faxing using the voice over internet protocol (VoIP) is known to create issues. For instance, eFax Corporate, addressing the problems of VoIP faxing, explains that… 

A fax cannot tolerate even a tiny percentage of packet loss — even a 1% packet loss, and more than a couple seconds of delay, can cause the connection to time-out and the fax to fail. It also cannot tolerate a break in the packet sequence which could result in more delay. The recipient’s fax machine might very well read any of these issues as a problem with the inbound fax, and kill the entire transmission.

Bottom line? 

If your healthcare organization uses VoIP, it’s possible your fax error rate is significant. On top of that, technology issues can also make it possible for your fax to end up in the wrong place, which happens more than you probably think it does. 

In fact, not long ago, an OB/GYN practice accidentally faxed someone’s personal records to NASA! The FBI was very concerned as to how the medical facility had NASA’s fax number. Turns out it was just a freak accident in which various waves crossed, and the fax got sent to the wrong place. 

Taking Steps Forward to Improving Medical Records Release Practices

The need for a better system regarding transferring private information is no secret. It’s actually so well-known and important that, according to PublicIntegrity, the Obama administration spent upward of $30 billion encouraging American hospitals and doctor offices to switch from paper to electronic records.

The downfall? The program didn’t account for information sharing. This left medical organizations unable to transfer electronic information to other medical practices, legal firms, or patients. For this reason, most medical providers still continue to use fax machines to send and receive patient documents. 

How a Content Management System Can Eliminate the Need for Fax Machines 

an open laptop on a desk in an office space

In 2019, you’d think we’d have a content management system that would eliminate the need for a fax machine–and we do! 

Our ChartRequest medical records release software is an all-in-one online content management system that empowers medical organizations to:

  • Electronically request and release medical records.
  • Insource with ChartRequest’s workflow automation software.
  • Manage patient records without the need for a vendor.
  • Keep your patient records safe and secure.
  • Own your process with a software-powered release of information platform.

Both you and your patients deserve an easy-to-use online system that takes the burden and risk out of transferring private patient medical records. With our 100% digital records release software you can easily do that. 

It’s time to leave outdated 80s technology in the past and step into the future. See how we can help secure your medical records release process by requesting a demo here

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