The Risks of Paper Records: Why Government Agencies Around the World are Pushing Paperless Solutions

In 2018, the former CMS administrator, Seema Varma, issued a compelling challenge at the ONC Interoperability Forum: “Help us make every doctor’s office in America a fax free zone by 2020!” Also in 2018, Matt Hancock, UK Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, declared fax machines “archaic” and directed the NHS to discontinue their use. This stance has been echoed by Germany, Canada, and Japan, all of which have committed to eliminating faxing within all government agencies.

However, despite this global trend, in 2023, fax remains to be the primary technology of communications in United States healthcare, with over 70% of institutions relying on the outdated technology. Budget, personnel, and digital literacy setbacks have led to the industry’s reluctance to change, but incentives for adoption of paperless communications have only increased. By addressing the risks of paper records with digital solutions, healthcare providers can provide safer, smarter, and more cost-effective healthcare landscape.

Poor Data Governance: 

According to one survey, 4 out of 10 healthcare respondents acknowledged reading a paper fax that was originally meant for another recipient. Without encryption and effective oversight, paper records lack the security measures that digital solutions offer. Unauthorized access to physical records and inaccurate faxing processes commonly lead to privacy breaches, putting patients' sensitive medical information at risk. Such breaches not only violate trust but can also result in legal and financial consequences. The implications of this vulnerability for a healthcare practice can be severe, with an average data breach costing about $8 million. 

Inefficient Patient Care: 

Missing pages, blurry documents, and limited accessibility are a few of the ways that physical faxes can decrease the efficacy of healthcare practices. Digital records and communications increase the accessibility, accuracy, and interoperability of health records, leading to better patient outcomes. One commonly-cited study found that EMRs were linked to a 55% reduction in serious medication errors, while other studies find that communication gaps due to inaccessible data commonly lead to higher rates of hospital readmittance and inaccurate care. Cloud-based faxing—and especially that which integrates with EMR technology—can be the difference between understanding a patient’s medical needs and failing to provide adequate treatment.

Unnecessary Cost:

Each year, the healthcare industry spends $250 billion on processing 30 billion healthcare transactions, half of which are faxes. This cost trickles down to providers through the costs of paper, toner, phone lines, maintenance, and most significantly: labor. In order to cut down the costs of document management, a Harvard Business Review article recommends: “[Automate] the extraction of data from electronic health records rather than using human data abstracters. […] This will reduce the cost associated with collecting clinical data and improve its accuracy.” Digital faxing and EMRs streamline document handling, thus diminishing the requirement for additional administrative manpower, but they become even more impactful with platforms like Medsender that boast AI-enabled document categorization and extraction.

Finding a Solution: Paperless Communication

The transition away from physical records is now more straightforward than ever, thanks to easy-to-use EMRs and digital fax solutions. With quick on-boarding processes, flexible integration, and accessible support, platforms have clear-cut investments for healthcare practices of all sizes. 

Integrating a digital fax service with an EMR system presents a groundbreaking solution, allowing medical professionals to access medical documents, referrals, and test results directly within the EMR application without unnecessary processing. This streamlined communication enhances accessibility, ensuring critical information is readily available to authorized healthcare providers.

In a world that relies on the speed of information, the risks of managing paper records are clear. The vulnerabilities to loss, breaches, and inefficiencies underscore the urgent need for change. By integrating a digital fax service with your EMR application, you're not just addressing these risks – you're elevating your practice to new heights of efficiency, security, and patient care.

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