How to Axe the Fax By 2020

By Luis Castillo, President & CEO, Ensocare
Twitter: @EnsocareCircle

Almost a year ago, CMS Administrator Seema Verma called upon apps developers to put an end to faxing in doctors’ offices by 2020. It was a bold statement, one that debuted to applause at the time but that nevertheless left everyone who heard it thinking about the many challenges that lie ahead in order to make this edict a reality.

Well, here we are, over halfway through 2019, and it begs the question: how close are we to axing the fax?

The answer is surprisingly straightforward: we’re not there yet. In fact, if we’re being completely honest, there’s basically no chance that we can eliminate fax machines from all physician’s clinics anytime soon, let alone from the entirety of healthcare.

The fax machine is far too entrenched to be eliminated completely within the next six months, or even by the end of 2020. While more and more hospitals, post-acute care facilities, clinics and other types of healthcare organizations are transitioning away from a reliance on fax machines every single day, holdouts remain.

Why do they remain? As they say, old habits die hard. Physicians and other healthcare leaders who have relied on the fax for decades can be reluctant to change up their workflows to accommodate newer, digital technology. There’s also a (faulty) line of thought that believes the outdated, analog technology powering faxes is oddly secure because it’s impenetrable to hacking attempts to which more advanced, modern systems might be sensitive. Another incorrect line of thinking is that providers are actually prohibited from sending PHI via email or the internet. While this perception isn’t true, there are a separate set of considerations that must be taken to ensure secure electronic transmission of patient data.

We’ve previously covered why these types of arguments don’t hold up to scrutiny and why it’s important to get away from that belief. Not only are the security shortfalls readily apparent, but there’s an entire generation of healthcare professionals coming up through the clinical and executive ranks who have never used a fax machine (and, in all likelihood, have never even seen one), and we simply can’t expect them to waste hours learning the technological equivalent of Latin. Nor can we put progress on hold so we can communicate with other providers who are unable (or unwilling) to become a part of today’s technology-based ecosystem.

So it begs the question: how do we get there? How do we “axe the fax,” if not by 2020, then shortly thereafter?

There are steps healthcare providers of all types, from acute to long-term to post-acute and everything in between, can take to get away from their reliance on the fax machine. These steps are cost-effective and relatively straight-forward.

Take a look.

A Transition Solution
I wish I could just tell you to unplug your fax machine, throw it in the scrap heap, and start sending Patient Protected Health Information (PHI) electronically today. But I understand there are certain considerations that need to come first.

One recommendation I would make, if you’re not ready to make the leap all at once, is to slowly and incrementally transition portions of your organization away from faxing. Patient intake, for instance, is a good place to start. Move away from faxing as the primary means of sending and responding to patient placement requests. Some services will actually send out a single-page fax alerting a post-acute provider to an incoming patient referral on a digital platform, allowing the seamless transition to that platform. This is a perfect stopgap for facilities looking to get away from costly and time-consuming fax activity.

This is also a great option for organizations who have already transitioned away from faxing internally and are tired of having to rely on faxing in order to communicate with some of their external partners. Solutions that can transmit to a fax machine and invite the user at the other end to create an account on a digital communications service provide a means to maintain communication while those partners make their own transition to a more efficient, electronic solution.

Choose Your Tech Provider
Once you have a stopgap solution in place, you need to select your replacement for faxing. Depending on the size of your organization, this process could go quickly or it could take a while to review and evaluate the various vendors.

You’ll be looking for an app or an EHR system that meets your unique security and clinical needs. Many of the top vendors, such as Cerner and Epic, will deploy support personnel to answer any questions and help you make the transition. They’re a good place to start your search. In most organizations, this is where the compliance and legal teams will also need to be involved.

Roll Out Your Implementation
Once you’ve made your vendor selection, there’s the matter of implementation. You’ll need to decide the order of deployment, determining what parts of your organization will begin the transition first.

As we mentioned before, intake is a great place to start. If you’re in a position to accept or send patient referrals electronically and store the necessary PHI to successfully attend to the patient’s needs, you’ll be in a good spot, and you can continue the rollout of a digital, non-fax solution unencumbered.

While this transition is ongoing, you’ll need to bring your team members up to speed on the new solution, getting them set up as users and making sure they have all the support they need to be successful.

For those who have grown accustomed to faxing, you might encounter some initial pushback, but if our experience is any indication, I think you’ll find that most trepidation goes out the window quickly once team members see how much time they’ll get back in their day by switching to a digital means of communication.

When it comes to newer team members, the training will likely go off without a hitch. Persons of the millennial generation and younger have grown up with cellphones and tablets as an extension of self, and I can almost guarantee you they’ll have no issues transitioning to a non-fax paradise.

Scan Your Documentation
This part is arguably the most brutal: taking all those pieces of paper you’ve generated through faxing and printing over decades and scanning them into an electronic format.

There’s no easy solution to get through those reams of paper, other than to choose alternating team members and putting them to work (I say alternating because, if you assign the responsibility to one sole team member and that’s all they do, their job satisfaction will likely wane).

Talk to Your Network
One of the final steps is to alert your network of providers and partners about your new, modern means of communication. Start with your preferred partners and top payers, relaying the information they’ll need to send electronic data back and forth seamlessly.

Buy an Axe and Violently Dissemble the Fax Machine with the Utmost Rigor
At this point, you can do what’s suggested in the headline of this piece: buy an ax and get to axing. Those familiar with the popular scene in the 1999 movie, “Office Space,” likely have an adequate mental image at this point.

Of course, that’s a joke (not a recommendation). While the temptation may be to throw out the fax entirely, the simple truth is you won’t be the last provider to transition away from faxing, and you may need to communicate with the remaining holdouts. There will be a “last” eventually, but if you embark on these steps now, it probably won’t be you.

Will we be able to axe the fax by 2020? Not likely. But we’re getting closer and closer to a fully modern healthcare infrastructure. Together, let’s axe the fax.

This article was originally published on Ensocare and is republished here with permission.