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First Look – Don’t Confuse Digital Fax with Legacy Fax

The Problem: Sharing Information Efficiently

For decades, we have shared information between disparate care modalities with the old analog phone/fax legacy solutions. But this approach lacks confidentiality and is expensive, insecure, inefficient for timely delivery of information (unless a person is standing by the fax machine), and supply intensive. The current industry approach for sharing Fast Healthcare Interoperable Resources (FHIR) standard information will likely take several years to become a predominant method for sharing information, and that information will likely be clinically focused in the first iterations of installations.

Healthcare organizations conduct numerous information-sharing transactions daily relative to sharing patient-insurance information, demographic information, information required for specialty referrals, diagnostic test results, and payment statuses. Many of these transactions are still being conducted with legacy fax solutions. New digital-fax solutions are emerging that will help to resolve many of the current challenges related to expenses, security, confidentiality, efficiency, and equipment.

The Solution: Digital Fax – An Elegant Approach to Replacing an Old Architecture

Digital-fax (or eFax) solutions use new architecture that lets documents be digitized and then transmitted from numerous devices by the internet to recipients. Using this architecture, people can send digitized documents (a fax) from their smartphones, tablets, or PCs to recipients using the same devices. The old fax machine is no longer needed. The digitized documents can be encrypted to ensure confidentiality, and timeliness of sharing information is improved. In many cases, these solutions can be implemented on premises by the healthcare organization, or they can be employed as cloud-based services.

Digital-fax solutions may also contain workflow solutions that allow organizations to more efficiently route documents and information (such as referrals and intake) to the correct people or healthcare services. Some solutions also provide direct secure messaging to extend information-sharing capabilities.

Many of the emerging digital-fax solutions have been integrated into the enterprise EHR solutions on the market, and that demonstrates the architectural stability and operational effectiveness of these solutions.

The Justification: Occam’s Razor

The justification for integrating digital-fax solutions into an organization’s environment includes the following:

  • Gain more efficient workflows; information flows to the EHR, designated people (even if they are mobile), or service areas.
  • Have greater compliance for information confidentiality (i.e., HIPAA); documents can be encrypted.
  • Eliminate legacy fax costs, such as machines, paper, ink, and analog phone service.
  • Improve data for analysis of information sharing and service impacts.

The Players: An Interesting Mix of New and Consolidated Companies

Here are some representative companies that provide digital-fax solutions:

Success Factors

  1. Selecting a digital-fax solution with workflow applications and direct secure messaging will improve communication simplicity and effectiveness.
  2. Digital-fax solutions must have the ability to encrypt the documents and information at rest and in transit.
  3. The ability to integrate digital fax into the enterprise EHR will provide a strategic patient data–sharing bridge until FHIR standards are widely implemented and used.

Summary

When the word fax is used, many people associate this technology with the legacy fax machines and phone lines needed to share relevant patient information. This is a perception that quickly needs to be replaced with the emergence of digital-fax solutions. Digital fax is a disruptive technology that will dramatically improve the ability to share patient information across healthcare systems and care modalities efficiently and securely. The emerging digital-fax solutions are much less expensive than the legacy fax products and provide the ability to make any smart device a fax service (i.e., smartphones, tablets, and PCs). Adding workflow applications to the solution framework may make these solutions difficult to replace once the FHIR interoperability standards are viable and being used. In any case, these new digital-fax solutions provide a bridge strategy for implementing effective interoperability.




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