Fax-Free Healthcare? CMS’s 2020 Vision

Healthcare professionals who aren’t looking beyond fax machines to share patient data are in for a rude awakening.

For a technology that has existed for more than a century and a half – (Scottish inventor Alexander Bain worked on chemical mechanical fax type devices in 1846, for which he received a patent in 1843) the fax machine has proved remarkably durable in the medical profession. (Xerox introduced the modern commercial fax in 1964.)

But the digital revolution is about to intrude in doctors’ offices once again. And one of the triggers for it will be requirements from the federal government, the biggest health care payer in the United States. (Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services,CMS, ‘insures’ more than 50% of the US population).

“If I could challenge developers on a mission, it’s to help make doctors’ offices a fax free zone by 2020,” Seema Verma, administrator for the CMS, said during a recent forum in Washington, D.C.

The changes that CMS is looking for will cause a big shift in health care and how it is reimbursed, according to Hugh Gilenson, Director of Business Development at DataMotion. “While many providers understand that fee-for-service is falling by the wayside, they are generally less aware of what the emerging patient-centered model means for how they exchange patient records,” Gilenson said.

Healthcare is in “a 1990s time warp,” according to Verma, and electronic records are not easing physician burnout because many don’t interoperate, thus leaving physicians with no option other than to exchange notes on paper and fax machines.  This leads to frustration among patients when they are told that their data can’t be shared electronically with them or another provider.

She said that in the future, physicians and hospitals will have to give patients electronic access to their health records to avoid payment reductions.

The goal is for records to be more accessible to both providers and patients, according to Peter Tippett, MD, PhD and CEO of Healthcelerate.

“Fax in healthcare is a deeply embedded and evolved service which delivered huge productivity gains during its heyday. But the latest health information technologies (analytics, AI, APIs, mHealth) need access to actual data, not pictures of data – which is where fax falls short.” Tippett said. “When patients get tests done, they want to be able to share the results using web and mobile apps, and extended care teams need that information as data that can be queried, formatted and presented in the most useful way.”

In doctor’s offices where faxes are still used for secure communications, that’s not possible. And if the data inefficiency of fax isn’t enough to make healthcare providers take pause about the outmoded technology, a recent report, Faxploit, serves notice that the security benefits driving fax retention are a mirage.  According to the study, a fax number in the hands of a hacker is an easy entry point into a provider’s IT network that makes all data on the network vulnerable to attack.

Verma’s challenge to eliminate fax from the healthcare communications landscape is part of CMS’s “axe the fax” initiative which both educates about fax vulnerabilities and promotes fax alternatives. Among the readily available options are secure email services and the Direct Secure Messaging network, both of which meet HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) requirements and are actively promoted by the Department of Health and Human Services.

There are also Open Application Program Interfaces (Open APIs) that are more modern, can be queried and are searchable. These technologies require more programming and can either push data to a patient, or a patient can retrieve the information they need.

The looming end of fax signals a major shift in the health care industry, according to Tippett, mostly for the better.

“Change is never easy but the benefits to patient satisfaction and outcomes that are achieved by new digital exchange methods make axing the fax an eminently logical decision,” Tippett said.

For more information on fax alternatives, download the whitepaper: Healthcare Delivery Transformation for the 21stCentury

Share This