Axe the fax, leverage secure messaging

Chad Peterson

Vice President of Public Sector Solutions, Orion Health

New messaging services offer higher value and flexibility, while empowering both your staff and patients.

Gone are the days where fax machines are the leading edge for secure communication in healthcare. And yet, healthcare is the last remaining industry still using fax as the primary way to communicate critical health information.

Healthcare is behind in the adoption of electronic communication solutions, resulting in a fragmented state of communication among professionals long overdue for change. At an ONC Interoperability Forum in August 2018, Seema Varma, the Administrator of the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services urged health information technology developers and attendees to improve interoperability by stating, “If I could challenge developers on a mission, it's to help make doctors' offices a fax free zone by 2020.”

Not all healthcare organizations are designed with the same infrastructure nor have access to the same resources. While there is no one size fits all solution, healthcare organizations can take steps to efficiently shift toward electronic data sharing. What types of tools may be accessible to help organizations of any size, structure, or budget shift away from traditional fax-heavy processes and towards a more efficient and interoperable practice?

Direct Secure Messaging

Direct secure messaging (secure messaging) is a mechanism for the secure exchange of health information within a trusted network. It was launched in 2010 by the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC). Unfortunately, many smaller provider organizations have fewer resources to keep up with the healthcare industry's evolving technological standards, but secure messaging is a low-cost, easy-to-use, scalable tool that connects healthcare stakeholders across all systems by providing an encrypted information exchange over the internet. Secure messaging can be used without the need for existing health IT infrastructure, making it an accessible option for organizations of all sizes, structures, and resources to leverage regardless of the type of provider or electronic health system they use.

Secure messaging increases interoperability, reduces errors, and eliminates barriers to care coordination by allowing disparate systems to communicate and exchange sensitive information and patient data while maintaining compliance, patient privacy, and confidentiality. Provider-to-provider communication is crucial for efficient patient careand empowers providers by supplying faster access to richer data from existing sources, at a fraction of the cost. It can help to reduce the risk of privacy breaches from faxes being sent to the wrong number or landing in the wrong hands; reduce communication errors from illegible handwriting or partially received faxes; while also eliminating fax-heavy workflows, helping to ease administrator and physician burnout and increasing productivity and provider job satisfaction.

Secure messaging empowers patients and increases engagement by making data accessible and allowing patients to be in charge of their healthcare. Rather than waiting for a fax to be sent between providers, secure messaging allows for electronic sending and receiving of information in real-time, increasing collaboration and effectiveness of care coordination between organizations, providers, and patients. Access to complete patient information can increase patient safety and allow patients and providers to focus on proactive care, rather than solely on reactive care, leading to better overall health outcomes.

Tools like secure messaging offer high value and flexibility, and can be leveraged by health organizations of all sizes and structures to affordably move towards a more efficient and interoperable landscape while offering the agility to continue to support the organization as it evolves. Now is the time to ‘axe the fax machine,’ move away from cumbersome processes and begin taking advantage of the benefits and efficiencies that secure messaging can provide.