Just the Fax, Ma'am

I don't have a fax machine. Neither does my company. I'll bet yours doesn't either…unless you work at a hospital or clinic. If you do, then I'll bet you the sound of fax machine screeching and the sound of paper printing is something you know very, very well. Why is that? Why has almost every industry abandoned the fax machine except for healthcare? Sarah Kliff at Vox explored this very question in her 10/30/2017 podcast The Impact: It's time to face the fax and also in this text version of the story. It is a fascinating discussion. 

While it would be great to think there is one simple reason for this, the truth is that it is a very complex scenario that results in the fax machine's refusal to die in the healthcare space. Or, as Kliff so aptly puts it: "It is the cockroach of American medicine: hated by doctors and medical professionals but able to survive — even thrive — in a hostile environment."

So, why can it survive in this hostile environment? Because sharing health records is ridiculously complex. EMR's such as Epic have done a ton of work to facilitate the sharing of information…and it even works pretty darn well, especially between hospitals that use the same EMR, but even between different EMRs. New protocols such as FHIR have been created with the explicit purpose of allowing EMR's to speak the same language. But just because it's technically possible doesn't make it easy. Patients have to sign waivers, IT teams have to coordinate large projects, patients do not have a single national identifier to make it easy to know you're filing data to the right patient, and the hospitals themselves must agree to share data with their competitors…yes, that's right.

Healthcare providers are as fierce as ever to win your business. Kliff quotes David Blumenthal weighing in on this very topic: "We don’t expect Amazon and Walmart to share background on their customers, but we do expect competing hospital system to do so. Those institutions consider that data proprietary and an important business asset. We should never have expected it to occur naturally, that these organizations would readily adopt information exchange."

Okay, so I'm not really telling you something you didn't know. Faxes and paper are still very alive and well.

"By one private firm’s estimate, the fax accounts for about 75 percent of all medical communication. It frustrates doctors, nurses, researchers, and entire hospitals, but a solution is evasive." A doctor that Kliff interviewed perfectly captured the amount of burden these faxes put on the healthcare industry, from medical records departments to front-office MA's, to doctors themselves when she discussed how all of the incoming documents are sorted manually and routed to doctors who manually process them and still store them in the infamous manila folders.

Maybe someday a perfect, fluid exchange of data between healthcare organizations will be our reality. But that's a ways off. Until then, let Extract handle your faxes for you. Our intelligent document handling solution can sort the documents for you, route them to the right place, and even capture the important information from the documents and file it into your EMR. Allowing your entry staff to quickly handle the exception cases and your clinicians to easily find what they are looking for when they need it.


Rob Fea spent 12 years partnering with IT teams and clinicians at major hospitals and clinics worldwide during his tenure on the technical services team at Epic. Rob supported Epic's Phoenix product, playing a major role in project kickoffs, installation, data conversions, ongoing support, and optimization. Rob watched the Phoenix customer base expand from 0 to 55 live and installing transplant organizations. This experience gave Rob expansive insight into the healthcare world, especially the solid organ transplant industry. Rob has spent countless hours on the floor in transplant departments observing multidisciplinary visits, committee review meetings, data entry, data trending, reporting, medication dosing, and more.