New Healthcare Interoperability Solution Leverages Age-Old Technology

We may scoff at fax technology, but it remains one of the lowest-cost, lowest barrier ways to exchange patient records. Despite repeated attempts to axe-the-fax in healthcare, it continues to be relied upon by healthcare organizations. J2 Global’s Consensus interoperability solution leans into and leverages this age-old technology to help organizations more easily (and securely) send and receive patient information while layering on new technologies liked Direct Messaging as they’re available.

Fax Usage Increasing in Healthcare

Many healthcare organizations still rely on fax machines as their primary way to send patient information to other providers external to their network. In fact, the use of fax for data exchange in healthcare is increasing. The Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology’s (ONC) State of Interoperability among U.S. Non-federal Acute Care Hospitals in 2018 Report, released in March 2020, shows 5% increase in the use of mail or fax for sending summary of care records from 2017 to 2018:

2017 2018 Change
Send summary of care records by mail or fax 66% 71% +5%
Receive summary of care records by mail or fax 73% 76% +3%
Send summary of care records by efax using EHR 63% 66% +3%
Receive summary of care records by efax using EHR 45% 52% +7%

At first glance this rise in fax usage is perplexing. By 2017, the ONC reported that 96% of acute care hospitals had adopted an EHR. However, we all know that the guidelines for certified EHRs at the time did not have provisions for seamless data exchange. As a result, we ended up with electronic data silos in healthcare and the current interoperability challenge.

Cloud Fax = Evolution of Faxing

Also notable from the report is the increase in the use of efax – the exchanging of fax information using the Internet. According to the ONC, from 2017 to 2018 the use of eFax to send and receive care records increased 3% and 7% respectively.

“efax or cloud faxing as it’s more commonly called, is one of the best protocols for rapid, reliable and scalable data transfer,” stated John Nebergall, Senior Vice President and General Manager of Cloud Faxing at J2 Global. “Cloud faxing means having a fully electronic workflow. There is no paper, no physical fax machine, yet it uses tried-and-true fax protocols.”

With a traditional fax machine, patient information would need to be printed from the EHR, walked over to the fax machine and sent through, page by agonizing page. Once confirmation the fax was received properly, the paper record would need to be shredded in order to protect patient privacy. Babysitting this entire process is a tremendous waste of precious healthcare resources.

Cloud faxing eliminates all of this. With the click of a button, information from an EHR (and most other hospital systems) can be turned into a fax transmission and sent to the recipient via the Internet. “It’s quick, convenient and secure” said Nebergall.

Using Fax as the Foundation for Interoperability

Recently J2 Global, a leading provider of Cloud Fax solutions to healthcare, announced the release of their new Consensus Interoperability Platform. The platform offers a “comprehensive connection with a simple, inbox-like dashboard to manage all incoming and outgoing patient documents”.

According to Nebergall, Consensus allows for:

“To end-users, the Consensus dashboard makes it appear as if you are sending a fax,” explained Nebergall. “You type in the recipient’s fax number, select your document and press SEND. Behind the scenes, the platform looks up that fax number and determines if there is a better method to transmit the information. That could be via a Direct Message via DirectTrust. It could even be delivered via an API to the recipient’s EHR. Of course it could also be to an actual fax number.”

Strong Partnerships Make It Possible

Consensus combines the eFax corporate fax network from J2 Global with Kno2’s interoperability connections including Carequality, Direct Secure Messaging, Referral Networks, and HIE’s.

“J2 Global is sending a strong message to the healthcare community, government agencies and other health technology vendors that the dominant player in cloud fax in the US is committed to driving interoperability to the benefit of all.” said Kno2 CEO Jon Elwell.  “Meaningful Use and the billions of dollars invested did not accomplish the goal. Fax still remains. That is why Kno2 has always focused on the fax machine as the starting point for the ultimate conversion to interoperability. We are excited to partner with J2 Global to bring Consensus, connected by Kno2 to healthcare. Both organizations are aligned and believe in this technology.”

“We’re thrilled to see J2 working with Kno2 to utilize the DirectTrust network,” said Scott Stuewe, President and CEO of DirectTrust. “As the industry moves more towards greater interoperability, Direct Secure Messaging provides a great and interoperable alternative to fax. Extending the unique Kno2 transition-from-fax-to-interoperability approach is extremely valuable in helping organizations reap the benefits of secure and trusted exchange. Through Consensus, we welcome J2 Global to our community!”

It is rare for three organizations to have technologies so complementary with each other’s. By teaming with Kno2 and through Kno2 with DirectTrust, J2 Global has married it’s industry leading cloud fax business with a scalable interoperability network built specifically to break through the data silos that proliferate the healthcare landscape.

Post-Acute Providers Win

“There are still many providers that struggle to gain access to critical patient data,” said Nebergall. “Many post-acute organizations, for example, do not have an electronic means to exchange patient data – other than through fax. Now with Consensus, they will have a way to participate in the electronic healthcare ecosystem. They can send and request patient information electronically.”

Post-acute care organizations have long struggled to gain access to medical records for patients transitioned into their care. In particular, medication information is prone to delays when sent via traditional fax or printed records which can lead to costly hospital readmissions. This is a topic that Healthcare IT Today has covered in the past: Interoperability Generates Excitement at #PCCSUMMIT19 and Patient Transfers to Post-Acute Care Rely Largely on Outdated Manual Methods, Hindering Optimal Care.

Bringing it Together

Nebergall summarizes Consensus nicely: “None of the technologies we are using are new. We’re just offering a platform that integrates these technologies in a new way so that more healthcare organizations can exchange patient information electronically. This will be very important going forward as the industry moves to comply with the new electronic data interoperability requirements of the ONC Cures Act Final Rule.”

With Consensus, J2 Global has hidden the complexity of multiple interoperability protocols behind a single, easy-to-use interface. This will be a boon for many healthcare organizations who lack the IT resources to fully implement complex interoperability frameworks.

Who knew there is still so much life left in fax technology?

This article is part of the #HealthIT100in100

Listen and subscribe to the Healthcare IT Today Interviews Podcast to hear all the latest insights from experts in healthcare IT.

And for an exclusive look at our top storiessubscribe to our newsletter.

Tell us what you think. Contact us here or on Twitter at @hcitoday. And if you’re interested in advertising with us, check out our various advertising packages and request our media Kit.

About the author

Colin Hung

Colin Hung

Colin Hung is the co-founder of the #hcldr (healthcare leadership) tweetchat one of the most popular and active healthcare social media communities on Twitter. Colin speaks, tweets and blogs regularly about healthcare, technology, marketing and leadership. He is currently an independent marketing consultant working with leading healthIT companies. Colin is a member of #TheWalkingGallery. His Twitter handle is: @Colin_Hung.