A recent article in The New York Times, “Bottleneck for U.S. Coronavirus Response: The Fax Machine,” highlights data exchange challenges emerging in a Texas health department as laboratories and physicians struggle to share complete and timely information related to COVID-19 testing. The struggle – in large part because of disparate, disconnected technology – represents a significant hurdle in battling the virus in our health systems across our nation.
Per the Times, the pandemic revealed a deeper need that many of us at Vyne Medical have been working to address for years – connecting disconnected data in the healthcare space. More specifically, replacing paper faxing (the real pariah) with digital solutions that help hospitals and health systems improve efficiency, create a more complete patient record and recover lost revenue.
COVID-19 is exposing issues impacting our communities and putting extreme pressure on our nation’s healthcare system and its providers. The Times article highlights several problems and process breakdowns that emerge primarily from a disconnected data exchange, but these issues can be avoided. The following further dives into the issues identified by the authors of the Times article and provides solutions available through Vyne Medical’s Trace® platform.
Problem #1: Healthcare faxing is a bad process
Telephony-based faxing is a dated process fraught with wasted ink and paper, squandered time, frustrating busy signals, and a mountain of outputs that require tedious, manual effort to resolve. Health systems need access to a digital file cabinet where faxes and other data are not only stored but seamlessly exchanged in a digital-only format thereby eliminating resources and wasted time.
Traditional faxing does not give providers the ability to automatically index data to corresponding fields in the patient record. If such a solution were in place, health departments would no longer struggle with mountains of paper files and bottlenecks associated with receiving, categorizing and manually entering data. Digitization and automation are the solutions needed to eliminate a bad process, and these tools are currently available through our digital fax solution.
Problem #2: Missing data and information security
Several well-known regulations are in place to protect patient data and privacy. Data gaps occur across the continuum of patient care in part because some providers are wary of violating data security regulations. Thus, they collect or send only a portion of the patient’s demographic identifiers. To eliminate these concerns, providers need exchange networks with full end-to-end encryption that protect patient data from start to finish. Trace is HITRUST-CSF-certified for information security, indicating that it meets industry-defined requirements to appropriately manage risk by protecting and securing sensitive, private healthcare information.
Problem #3: Fax isn’t centralized, structured nor incorporated into the patient record
Traditional fax data is not structured in any way except that it comes from a connected printer and is filed in a paper tray or cabinet. Health departments and health systems should require that data be delivered through a seamless, centralized platform that incorporates voice, fax and image files into an integrated, searchable, digital, organized dataset, which can then be captured and incorporated directly into the patient record. Trace offers solutions to capture virtually any interaction, connect it to the patient record, and make the information accessible across the enterprise.
Problem #4: Poor workflows and misrouted information
According to the Times reporting, officials believe there is currently too much focus on the number of tests performed instead of on what we are doing with those tests. Dr. Thomas Frieden, a former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states, “This is legitimately difficult stuff that every state is struggling with.”
This is a common problem, but proven solutions do exist. Hospitals in the United States exchange billions of patient files each year. Knowing who needs to do what and when are key elements in providing appropriate care. Enabling providers to create repeatable best practices in which every touchpoint is assigned, documented and clear to all involved benefits everyone. Bad processes are confronted with documented solutions, appropriate training and a platform that empowers sustainable results. Trace Quality Assurance™ gives health systems the ability to perform consistent, objective quality assurance reviews of staff communication – thereby creating predictable performance and improving the patient experience.
Problem #5: Disparate system-generated information
Overwhelmingly, national laboratories have invested in solutions to communicate electronically with a wide range of hospitals and public health systems. Smaller labs, however, that are drawn to coronavirus testing by high payment rates often don’t make the same investment and instead resort to fax.
Fax is overleveraged. It’s ubiquitous, unsecure and rife with data exchange problems. This is its primary problem – the inability to effectively exchange fax data between entities. What many new entrants to the testing sphere are unwilling to realize is that fax doesn’t capture, translate, nor drive data consistency on the receiving end. Faxes from these testing agencies put health system clients at risk and open the door to a myriad of downstream challenges. To solve this problem, faxes should be digitized so that the information they’re meant to contain and can be leveraged for action.
Technology and its data hosting, system upgrades, user training, and other common costs can quickly become prohibitively expensive. While costs are important, the right investment in technology can provide favorable returns in terms of productivity, data quality, workflow enhancement, and automated functionality that far outweigh the cost.
Fax technology is far from perfect, but it persists in large part because it continues to fill an important niche in healthcare communications. It’s cheap, widely available, and easy to use. And while it gets a bad rap, the fax machine in itself isn’t the problem. The problems manifest in how we fail to appropriately digitize and leverage the data in those faxes thereby creating bad processes, frustration and bottlenecks.
Fax technology must evolve. Healthcare’s providers need the ability to better manage and connect their disconnected data. Based on the reporting by the Times, it’s clear that disconnected data is the real bottleneck in the U.S. coronavirus response. At Vyne Medical, we stand ready to support providers in their transition to a completely paperless, digital process that redefines what it means to connect disconnected data.
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