Fax Machines. They have been such an integral part of any health care office, it’s hard to imagine functioning without one. They have been a core part of communication between pharmacies, hospitals, labs, imaging services and of course medical offices. However, times are changing.
In most cases, we no longer receive faxes from pharmacies (unless it’s a controlled substance), labs and imaging services. In many cases, these documents and requests will drop into our EMRs. Hospitals, offices and other services may be connected through their EMRs thus eliminating the need to fax documents altogether.
Indeed, many EMRs now offer some sort of integrated fax service that allow you to communicate with others. You may be able to email an encrypted copy of a document, send a document straight to another’s EMR inbox, or send the document to a secure portal where the recipient can log in and download the document to their EMR.
But what if you don’t have this service available in your EMR? Or perhaps you do not use an EMR.
That’s where online fax services come in. The biggest benefits I see are twofold – environmental and productivity. I love trees and I would just as soon see more trees and less paper. That said, a huge benefit to any office is that when you are using one of these services, you can receive your document already digitized and thus eliminate the need to scan, import and attach a document to a patients chart. This can be a huge cost savings in terms of staff time, toners, ink, fax machine cost and maintenance.
In other words, office productivity can increase while cost decrease.
Online fax services can vary greatly. You’ll want to compare features, costs and security when you evaluate one. Keep in mind, with any of these services, you’ll need to get a Business Associate Agreement as required by HIPAA.
Here are some things you’ll want to look at:
Security: Security and encryption is something that nearly all online fax services talk about, but not all say they are HIPAA compliant. When you are sending protected health information over the internet, you need it to be HIPAA compliant.
Email vs portal: Services will vary in how they send and deliver the documents. Some will send via an email with an encrypted attachment, others will require that you log into a secure portal to receive your documents.
Cost: In nearly all cases, you need to have an idea of how many faxes (pages) you send (outbound) and receive (inbound) per month. Some services also count how long it takes to send a page. There may also be a set up fee and additional cost per page if you go over your monthly allotment.
Other features and questions to consider: Does the service you are looking at allow you to mark up the PDF and fax it back out? Can you make comments? Can you sign it? What is the process for getting that document into your EMR or even your paper chart if you are still using them? How many people will be able to have access (ie.. your staff) and will you be able to revoke their access if necessary?
If your EMR does not have an integrated system, the benefits of increased security, increased productivity and reduced overall cost make using one of these services a no brainer.
So how are you managing faxes in your practice? Share with your colleagues below.
Barbara C. Phillips, NP, FAANP is a professional speaker, author, clinician and business owner who provides business education, resources and support to Nurse Practitioners, Physician Assistants and other Advance Practice Clinicians — both for the employed and self-employed clinician. Additional information about Ms. Phillips is available at www.BarbaraCPhillips.com.