I’ve come up with the perfect option to take care of healthcare interoperability. I realize that this is a major problem and solving that problem would improve care, lower costs, and make healthcare great again (sorry, I couldn’t help it).
This approach is unique because every healthcare organization out there already supports it. In fact, I don’t know any healthcare organization that would need to spend more money to implement this solution. In fact, the standard this option would use is already out there and everyone has already adopted the standard.
Furthermore, every provider and hospital already have a unique credential and their identity is shared with most of the people that need to share information with them in healthcare. In most cases the information to make the health data sharing between offices and hospitals is already on their website. Plus, this option is something that is easily learned by everyone involved. Most people in healthcare already know how to use it well.
The healthcare interoperability solution I’m describing is: The Fax.
Yeah. It’s shocking I know. That long list of benefits that I describe already exist in the fax. In fact, healthcare data sharing has been happening with faxes for a long time. Why then isn’t fax enough to make healthcare interoperability a reality?
While Fax has plenty of upside (there’s a reason it’s stuck around so long in healthcare), faxes also have a lot of downsides. First is that faxes still have to be sorted and assigned to a patient. This doesn’t happen automatically. It’s still a manual process. Second, faxes are often low quality and readability can really be a problem. Certainly, they’ve gotten better as we’ve started faxing printed reports, but faxes can still be very hard to read.
If you’ve ever worked in medical records, you know how hard it can be to make sure you’re attaching a fax to the right patient. It can be a real challenge. Plus, it’s not surprising that faxes often get attached to the wrong patient.
Another problem with faxes is that they can use up a lot of paper. There are definitely fax servers and other forms of secure electronic fax out there, but it’s shocking how many practices still print regular faxes and then scan and attach them into their EMR. Plus, is the fax really that secure? They can be, but in many cases they’re not. No one is tracking who looks at the faxes that are received. There aren’t restricted permissions on who can and can’t look at the faxes. It’s just an open stack of faxes that anyone can look at and read.
Another big problem with faxes is that they don’t provide any granular data. This is why it’s often hard to identify the correct patient for the fax. However, it’s also a problem as we start wanting to do more predictive analytics and population health efforts that require granular health data on a patient. Sure, you could use OCR (Optical Character Recognition) and NLP (Natural Language Processing) to pull out the details from these unstructured faxes, but that’s not as good as granular data that’s more precise.
Of course, we all love the way the fax produces a Blarrrrrring NOISE!!
While this post is somewhat tongue in cheek, I think it’s important to look back at these “legacy” technologies that have been so popular. Understanding why they have been so popular and in many ways still are so popular can help us understand what the solutions of the future need as a baseline to be a successful replacement. Healthcare Interoperability efforts can certainly learn a lot from the success of faxes in healthcare.