Canadian hospitals still rely heavily on traditional fax machines when sending and receiving sensitive patient data.
According to a study by TELUS Health, two-thirds of Canadian physicians use fax as their primary form of communication with hospitals, other doctors, and pharmacists.1
Why do Canadian healthcare organizations rely on dated technology that other sectors ditched ages ago?
Habits aside, the general belief is that fax machines are more secure than email. You might have heard that sending information via fax will help you comply with privacy regulations.
However, this isn’t always true. Relying on fax machines can increase security risks. Here are four examples of how fax machines can negatively impact your security and patient care:
- Faxes often go to wrong numbers, which can expose medical data to unauthorized and unintended people and lead to patient data breaches. For ten years, a spa owner in Nova Scotia received dozens of faxes that contained sensitive mental health information.2 Medical offices from across the province accidentally sent data to the spa, as its fax number was just one digit off from that of a mental health referral office. A hospital in Newfoundland and Labrador also sent more than 200 documents containing employee data to a farm.3 The hospital had erroneously programmed the farm’s number into one of its fax machines. When told about the problem, hospital staff couldn’t determine which device contained the error.
- Documents can sit on fax trays for hours – or even days – where anyone can read them. Staff members may grab the wrong piece of paper when they pick up faxes. It’s not surprising that more than 40 percent of healthcare professionals have read a fax intended for someone else.4
- Paper created by fax machines isn’t disposed of properly. A study by St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto5 revealed that hospitals throw thousands of documents that contain patient data into recycling bins. The research warns that not shredding these files can put patient privacy at risk and lead to liabilities.
- Sending information by fax can cause delays in patient care and treatment. Many faxes don’t go through or end up sitting on printer trays for hours, as mentioned. These inefficiencies make it difficult for medical professionals to deliver timely care.
In addition to data privacy risks, fax machines can increase your operational costs. For example, you will have expenses related to printing, storing, shuffling, and properly disposing of paper. Hospital staff can also waste valuable time distributing faxes to their intended recipients.
The British National Health Service Is Getting Rid of Fax Machines
Matt Hancock, British Health and Social Care Secretary, ordered that hospitals and physicians’ offices in the NHS completely phase out fax machines by 2020.6
Hancock stated, “Email is much more secure and miles more effective than fax machines. The NHS can be the best in the world – and we can start with getting rid of fax machines.”
The U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services have set similar goals for digital health information to replace the current use of fax machines in physician offices that share patient information.
As other national health systems get rid of fax machines, Canada should take notice.
5 Steps to Streamline and Secure Your Hospital’s Communications
Replacing traditional fax machines with digital technology can improve patient data privacy, healthcare staff productivity, patient care, and the flow of vital information – all while lowering your costs. Here are five steps that will help you move away from non-secure and inefficient fax machines:
1. Examine your current processes. How reliant are you on fax machines? What types of information are you sending and receiving via fax? How are paper-based processes like physician referrals impacting care coordination?
2. Get buy-in from key stakeholders. Improving your communications and protecting patient privacy means getting everyone on the same page. If your hospital is ready to ditch the old-school fax machines in favour of technology that helps you securely transmit patient data, you will need the following:
- Buy-in from senior leadership to administrative staff;
- Technology expertise that ensures the implementation proceeds with minimal hiccups;
- Sound change management to help users embrace new workflows and processes in a sustainable fashion; and
- Training that is ongoing and customized to the needs of each user.
3. Replace traditional fax machines with digital fax server software. You likely communicate with medical offices and pharmacies that want to fax you information. Digital fax servers allow you to send and receive faxes – without relying on bulky, insecure machines.
Digital fax servers integrate with your key applications, such as electronic medical record (EMR) systems, to improve the flow of information throughout your hospital. With digital fax servers, you can do the following:
- Send a fax as easily as you would send an email via integration with your hospital’s email system;
- Automatically route incoming faxes to secure email inboxes, instead of fax trays that are viewable to anyone walking by;
- Allow doctors and other hospital staff to review confidential faxes before sending;
- Ensure that you transmit patient data to authorized individuals only; and
- Maintain detailed audit trails and track when every fax is sent and opened.
4. Improve the management of your hospital’s data. Digitizing your documents – such as faxes, forms, and other files – helps you keep patient data out of the wrong hands. When you digitize your records, you can apply access controls so that only authorized users can view patient data.
And since you will keep all your files in a central platform, staff can more easily find information. Centralizing records improves communication and collaboration between departments, as it helps staff quickly route information to the right individuals. Ultimately, this leads to faster response times and improved patient experience.
5. Consider how you will handle papers from third parties. You can’t prevent paper-based records from coming into your hospital. For example, you may receive paper forms from a physician’s office or an incoming patient. You need a way to quickly and securely capture this data. A multi-function printer allows you to scan information at the point-of-care so that you can immediately move data into your central, digital system.
Success Story: Ottawa Fertility Centre
The Ottawa Fertility Centre (OFC) receives more than 250 paper-based documents by fax, mail, and courier every day. The OFC wanted to digitize these records and securely store them in an EMR system. However, the OFC’s resources were limited and couldn’t devote entire days to scanning incoming paper files.
The OFC used an advanced imaging solution to automatically capture patient information and store it in their EMR system. The solution allows the OFC to reduce their manual scanning time by 63 percent – while ensuring that they digitized paper records in a secure, error-free manner. Read the full story.
Old-school fax machines can’t keep pace with today’s modern hospitals. Replacing your paper-based processes and faxes with digital technology can help you improve your data security, better comply with privacy requirements, boost staff efficiency, and improve patient care.
Discover how other Canadian hospitals are digitizing their manual, paper-based processes and making patient data more secure: Visit RicohChangeMakers.ca/Healthcare.
1 TELUS Health: Beyond the fax machine, July 28, 2017
2 CBC: Mental health records sent to Nova Scotia spa in error over last decade, April 7, 2016
3 CBC: Confidential documents sent to wrong fax machine, August 3, 2012
6 Gov.UK: Health and Social Care Secretary bans fax machines at NHS, December 9, 2018