Fax in the News – A Better Way to Share Medical Records

A local NPR affiliate recounts some disturbing disconnects between users of ostensibly electronic health records:

Technology entrepreneur Jonathan Bush says he was recently watching a patient move from a hospital to a nursing home. The patient’s information was in an electronic medical record, or EMR. And getting the patient’s records from the hospital to the nursing home, Bush says, wasn’t exactly drag and drop.

“These two guys then type — I kid you not — the printout from the brand new EMR into their EMR, so that their fax server can fax it to the bloody nursing home,” Bush says.

(Proper fax server implementation could have prevented this situation. But more on that in a moment!)

Measures like the HITECH Act have led to $30 billion in public support for EMR adoption since 2009. However, whereas a certain EMR may make communications a breeze within the institution, it does not necessarily help communication with institutions using different software. As Medicare incentives for efficient communication (e.g., avoiding duplicate tests) continue to grow, and general demand for inter-compatible records increases likewise, the door has been flung open for newer, cloud-based EMR vendors.

However, federal interoperability standards remain years away, which means health care providers must find other, more cost-effective solutions in the meantime. For many of our clients, this involves the use of secure health care fax servers or services—albeit far more strategically than described in the quote above.

Native fax server integrations are available for practically all major EMRs, like Cerner, Epic, GE/IDX, and NextGen (among dozens of others). Most importantly, these integrations allow users to receive faxes directly into the software, which eliminates the need for printing or hand-entering data. So, instead of dealing with paper in the example from earlier, the hospital could have:

  1. Received a fax electronically, no printouts required
  2. Automatically routed that fax into its EMR (even into a specific patient file, after recognizing barcodes or other unique identifiers)
  3. Automatically sent the fax to the nursing home’s EMR (which could benefit from a similar workflow of its own)

Now that’s more like it. And if paper is simply inevitable—perhaps as part of a billing or patient registration workflow—its data can still be automatically captured and extracted. Long story sort, there is simply no reason to remain captive to paper while awaiting universal EMR standards. To learn more, simply contact us to schedule a complimentary health care fax consultation or workflow review at your convenience.

Fax in the News: A Prescription for Health Info Security

The Anthem records breach is old news by now, as is what occurred on a smaller (yet still enormous) scale at Tennessee’s Community Health Systems. Whence these egregious security gaps? According to an article in Fortune, email may be largely to blame.

It turns out that, besides Aetna, health care insurers fared abominably in a recent analysis of corporate email security protocols. According to the founder and CEO of Agari, the firm responsible for the study, “The poor folks in health care have traditionally not had much digital interaction. They’re the ones furthest behind by a country mile.”

Whether concerning email, fax (our niche, of course), or still other means of communication, this is a tremendously important insight that resonates perfectly with our own experience. In stark contrast to the social media enterprises that topped the study’s rankings—enterprises borne of and into a digital world—most health care firms predate electronic communications by decades.

Eagerness to implement the latest technology and its concomitant security measures is just not in the DNA of most insurers. Thus, they often adopt standards later due to a) cost pressure and/or b) legislative pressures (e.g., HIPAA). This dynamic creates a perfect storm of lagging technology and extremely urgent implementation, in which security concerns may fall victim to more pressing concerns.

However, simply impugning the security practices of health insurers isn’t helpful. Our goal—our responsibility, even—is to point out that fax may represent a more familiar and cost-effective way forward. Like email, it entails a desktop- and MFD-accessible workflow, completely digital and paperless if customers so desire. Unlike email, it is inherently secure in transmission, and features like the RightFax Encryption Module are available to keep data safe in storage as well.

Despite the common inclination to ditch fax for email, perhaps the solution to some security concerns is actually more faxing, not less. We will never know how that approach might have changed the scenario at Anthem, but we do know that fax servers have already helped our own clients increased both security and cost-effectiveness within their organizations.

To learn more about RightFax in the health care industry, or simply to share your thoughts, please drop us a line!

Rethinking Fax to Reinforce Competitive Advantage — Part 2

In this continuation of last week’s post, we resume our discussion of two sea changes in enterprise faxing, and what they mean for businesses seeking to strengthen operational advantages.


As we emphasized last week, fax solutions today look and work almost completely differently from their predecessors. With such changes have come many new workflow possibilities, which give rise to this week’s point:

Organizations need to see how fax can be a critical variable in fortifying a competitive advantage.

That is to say, fax matters—and far more so than many users realize. After working with countless technical and business stakeholders, it seems that one critical question should be asked more often: “Since we have to fax for the foreseeable future, how can we do so in a way that makes us more competitive?”

In our experience, there is always an answer.

A concrete example might help. Health care providers and insurers have always comprised a large share of our clientele, and their proportion has further increased since the passage of the Affordable Care and HITECH Acts. A universal challenge in the industry is maintaining the security of protected health information (PHI) as required by HIPAA, since negligence could bring severe legal consequences.

Providers and insurers fax PHI perpetually. For the sake of compliance, many employ devices like locking security covers for their fax machines, or even entirely separate rooms. The inconvenience is severe, and the loss of floor/desk space can be a problem in its own right.

So, with the combined hassles of paper documents, manual workflows, and almost comically burdensome privacy protocols, it’s easy to understand why some healthcare organizations are particularly resentful of faxing.

However, that’s also why these same firms have been among the most eager to embrace server-based fax solutions. Even though laws like HIPAA are industry-specific, the workflow improvements that sustain a competitive advantage in healthcare are almost universal:

  • Getting better control of information by sending/receiving, indexing, and storing data electronically
  • Balancing privacy risk mitigation with ease of use for authorized parties/systems
  • Minimizing telecom costs (in terms of both usage and administration)

Almost without exception, enterprise fax architecture plays a significant role in all the above. Will it create more or less work for an average employee? Will it increase or reduce document transmission costs? Will it be more or less conducive to centralized management? Will it address privacy concerns or create more difficult ones?

In light of these influences on operational efficiency, something as seemingly mundane as fax is inextricably linked to competitive advantage, and therefore to long-run profitability.

In practice, fairly small improvements (a mere 10% reduction in fax line usage, for example) can offset solution costs very quickly. As a general rule, we observe a median breakeven point of about six months from deployment. A period longer than one year is nearly unheard-of. Less measurable factors, like workflow efficiency and privacy risk reduction, also contribute greatly.

In practice, this ROI timeframe yields a pattern that we have repeatedly observed throughout years of consulting:

  1. Clients have an “ah-ha” moment in which they realize faxing no longer needs to be costly or inefficient,
  2. They implement an electronic, paperless alternative in hopes of addressing one or two very specific pain points, and
  3. The efficiency gains from the initial project spark their imagination and lead to expansion into other departments/processes

In many cases, this pattern snowballs until enterprise-wide adoption has occurred (which, by the way, is one reason we urge scalability even in pilot projects).

The nuances of custom integrations, server clusters, virtualization, IP networks, OCR for fax, and so forth merit their own articles. But to make a long story short, these advances have turned faxing from a cumbersome vestige of bygone technology into an efficient, cost-effective, and eminently modern means of communication.

If you’re looking to do your customers, owners, and/or employees a great service, then it’s time to explore the possibilities.

Rethinking Fax to Reinforce Competitive Advantage — Part 1

This week and next, we’ll take a closer look at how fax has evolved over the last several years, and how it can thus help organizations enhance their competitive advantage.


Fax gets a bad rap. It is decidedly unglamorous. It has a reputation for being clunky, slow, and often expensive. And, as a matter of fact, it even predates the telephone.

So why in the world do we still use it? The answer depends partly on one’s industry, but on the whole, fax survived the advent of email, EDI, and so forth because simplicity, security, and legal viability trump most other considerations. (Plus, a whole lot of businesses still store a whole lot of paper.)

Yet in most firms, enterprise faxing is also one of the most oft-overlooked opportunities for cost reduction. It may come as a surprise that Fortune 500 companies reportedly average about $16 million per year in fax-related phone service. That’s right: the share of phone line usage specific to faxing may be greater than the combined salaries of the whole C-suite, or even of 100+ managers! Of course, those costs may be far higher for companies in fax-intensive industries.

Fortunately, the path to cost savings may begin with a simple change in perspective. Our work has yielded two key realizations that empower customers to turn faxing from a problem into an advantage.

First, organizations must understand that today’s fax technology is worlds apart from its forebears.

Efficiency, cost-effectiveness, usability, and so forth have all improved by orders of magnitude. Quite frankly, what’s outdated is not faxing itself, but the perspective from which we often think about it.

The first and most revolutionary change was the advent of the fax server. By making it electronic from start to finish, this solved the fundamental problem of handling vast amounts of paper. It likewise opened up entirely new workflow possibilities like automation, desktop access, and application integration.

Next was the introduction of OCR (optical character recognition) technology, which transforms fax image files into usable data, thus introducing yet another level of workflow automation.

More recently, fax has converged with broader trends in IP telephony and cloud computing. With the possibilities of leveraging existing IP networks or even outsourcing fax services altogether, dedicated physical infrastructure has become entirely optional.

These developments mean the fax solutions of today bear little resemblance to those of years past. They also have immense workflow implications, tying into the second point, which we’ll pick up in next week’s post: organizations need to see how fax can be a critical variable in fortifying a competitive advantage.


Want to share your thoughts on this topic, or just pick our brains? Feel free to drop us a line anytime!

Fax in the News: A Global Glance at Faxing

Faxing, according to the Jerusalem Post, is used for very different reasons in two very different places: Japan and Israel.

As the author explains, “Japan still values handwriting, to the extent that greeting cards and resumes are still typically hand-written and calligraphy lessons are popular.” General preferences for hard copies, use of a complex writing system, and a significantly older-than-average population have also slowed the transition to newer media. By 2012, the article reports, an astonishing 59% of Japanese households still had their own fax machine—a rarity in most of the world, to be sure.

This is a night-and-day contrast with the US, for instance, where electronic communication is generally preferred by a wide margin. Handwritten resumés? Never. And calligraphy lessons? Unlikely. Consequently, just as our professional and personal documents are typed whenever possible, so faxing has shifted toward automation and wider use of paperless fax software/services.

However, the persistence of fax in Israel is more a product of economic maladaptation than of deep-seated preferences:

So why is Israel stuck in a fax rut, even as it manages to produce some of the most innovative technology in the world? “Perhaps it’s because we don’t have much of a culture of service, so companies don’t have to make an effort to get us as customers,” said Gili S. Drori, a professor of sociology and anthropology at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

Part of the reason for that culture, however, is lack of competition. The high-tech sector, which has above-average productivity, competes in a global market. Certain sectors of Israel’s economy, however, are shielded from competition or dominated by a few players who do not need to provide good customer service and innovative technology to stay afloat in a market of 8 million people.

We at Paperless Productivity® are workflow consultants, not economic analysts, so we’ll take Professor Drori’s word for it. But whatever the cause of Israel’s purported fax fixation, it highlights something important: modernizing communications is critical for companies that do rely on top-notch “customer service and innovative technology.”

Even though American companies are apparently subject to tougher competition that their Israeli counterparts—and dislike hard copies and prefer to automate data entry in the first place—the demand and opportunity for more advanced faxing continues to grow in the US market. As we recently discussed here, the reasons American companies still fax are typically more legal/regulatory in nature, as the health care industry continues to demonstrate. Paper is of little sentimental value, and outdated solutions are a competitive disadvantage, but fax’s inherent security means it will remain in the enterprise communications landscape for quite some time.

Critically, whereas fax machines are certainly outdated, faxing itself has become has modern as anything. Virtualization, IP networks, cloud services, automation…the list of 21st-century changes to enterprise faxing is lengthy. The topic of leveraging fax for competitive advantage in a modern business is one we’ll visit at greater length in the next few weeks.

To use the words of a Deloitte study quoted in the article, “It is hard to imagine a truly innovative country without a government that sets an example for the integration of innovation, both as a client of advanced tools and as a supplier of innovative services.” If we substitute “country” and “government” for “industry” and “company,” then we are left with a nice statement of the urgency of modern and cost-effective faxing. To learn more about making it a reality in your organization, feel free to contact us at your convenience.