Becker’s Hospital Review – Authored by Therasa Bell, President & Chief Technology Officer for Kno2.
Fax machines. They had their heyday back in the 1980s, right?
Wrong. Surprisingly enough, fax volume in the healthcare industry hit an all-time high last year. Considering the last decade’s push to eliminate fax as practices move towards adopting electronic forms of patient document exchange, that fact is startling.
A wide variety of technologies are already available that would enable practices to jettison the fax machine, with Direct messaging as a notable example. Yet rather than adopt these technologies, many practices are still holding onto their outdated fax workflows.
Clearly, the adage “If you build it, they will come,” doesn’t apply in healthcare.
Because so many practices haven’t gotten rid of fax, everyone in healthcare has to support it. Providers that have already transitioned to digital forms of patient document exchange continue to collaborate with those that are less technologically advanced. Unless both the sending and receiving medical facilities have adopted digital transmissions, faxing remains part of the equation. Thus, faxing continues to thrive in healthcare, despite the widespread adoption of EMRs/EHRs and the growing use of electronic document transmission.
How do we break out of this cycle? Ironically, we do it by accepting the role of fax.
Mandates Don’t Matter; Workflow and Psychology Do
Behavioral psychology is the true driver of change. Clinicians and staff don’t want to alter their workflow, and they certainly don’t appreciate a government mandate such as Meaningful Use forcing their hand. Not only do mandates require a shift in workflow, but they also tend to demand rapid transformations, putting even more of a wrench in the typical workings of a practice. Asking people to make a big change—and to make it quickly—guarantees a misstep or worse.
If we want practices to evolve away from fax, the best way is to allow them to do it at their own pace. Instead, the most effective approach to eliminating fax involves two key concepts:
- Disregarding existing workflow and the continuing popularity of fax is a recipe for failure. Instead, work with fax as a form of exchange and, over time, transition the practice to a different, more efficient patient document exchange method.
- The progression from fax to a more interoperable form of document exchange should happen at the provider’s discretion. A mandate is a point-in-time impact that disrupts rather than changes behavior. Putting a process in place that allows providers to adapt at their own pace is the best practices approach.
This is where the importance of embracing fax comes into the picture. The first step is to get practices to move away from paper-and-toner faxing to a digital form—cloud fax.
5 Steps for Using Fax to Get Rid of Fax
There are, in fact, five key steps along the path that leads from fax to more sophisticated forms of electronic patient document exchange. Following these five steps ensures a smooth transition—and real behavioral change.
- At this step, the medical practice makes the minor shift of moving toward cloud fax. This shift doesn’t require any significant change to workflow, so it doesn’t disrupt the practice. It eliminates expenses including paper, ink and the cost of sending a fax through a phone line, as well as the upkeep of the machines. Even more importantly, it reduces the resources expended to sort, categorize and upload the patient documentation to the appropriate EMR/EHR patient charts. In essence, it establishes digital connectivity for the practice.
- Moving to cloud fax opens up a new world of visibility into your fax volume. You can see, for example, how many faxes (and pages of faxes) are flowing in and out of the practice each month. Specifically, you can pinpoint which practices send the most faxes to you and vice versa. This visibility enables you to perceive the potential benefit of moving to a different form of patient document exchange.
- With cloud fax metrics at your fingertips, you can now take a thoughtful approach to identifying opportunities for improvement. You may, for example, have discovered that 30 percent of your fax volume comes from a single referral partner. It would make sense to reach out to that partner and agree on a more streamlined method of information exchange to address increasing interoperability demands. Notably, you’re willing to make this change because you see a business case for it, not because the change was mandated.
- Once you’ve identified the areas in which you can improve, it’s time to embrace a technology that can make that happen. This is a decision stage: a decision to go with a more advanced exchange method than cloud fax. Moving to a more evolved patient document exchange method doesn’t require any futuristic leaps; technologies such as Direct messaging or electronic document query are available and waiting for practices to use them. Integrated platforms even exist that can handle the full spectrum of patient document exchange (ranging from cloud fax to EMR/EHR interoperability) on a single platform. In choosing a new technology, it’s crucial to select a solution that can exchange clinical documents in a way that works for both exchange partners, and that can easily scale as your operational, clinical and technology demands expand.
- Once you have a form of interoperable exchange set up between you and your referral partners, you’re ready to optimize your exchange. For example, you may determine that you no longer need to send or receive the entire patient record for a referral. Instead, you start to pinpoint the exact information that needs to be shared, enabling the creation of a more streamlined and effective exchange. Ultimately, you want to achieve precise delivery of the right information at the right time to the right person. Once you see the results of this refined information flow, your desire to accelerate optimization will grow. You simply won’t want fax anymore; you will have experienced something better and you’ll want to continue to improve that process. This optimization is circular: When you move into the stage of optimization, your hesitancy to adopt future advancements diminishes, and your ability to internalize and integrate the next standard or mandate increases. You will have the confidence and the capabilities, and you’ll be open to what’s coming next.
Psychological Secret to Success
The major challenge of driving technology adoption in healthcare is getting people to welcome change. Relying on mandates to drive adoption of electronic exchange hasn’t solved the fax problem. It’s time for a new approach—one that pays attention to human nature and introduces transitions that help providers willingly step away from fax, one foot at a time.