How many steps would you estimate it takes the typical medical practice to process a faxed request from a pharmacy for a prescription refill?

I can’t speak for how every practice handles this type of daily business operation, but after speaking with hundreds of physicians and healthcare office administrators, I can tell you most practices find the process tedious and time-consuming. Typically, it looks something like this:

  • A staff member periodically collects inbound fax documents from the office fax machine.
  • That staff member then sorts the stack of faxes, or hands it off to a colleague to do so.
  • Someone in the office then scans each paper fax document, to create a digital record.
  • A staff member must then manually enter the fax data into the practice’s EHR system.
  • Finally, someone in the practice is responsible for either securely filing or shredding the hardcopy fax documents, to keep the organization in compliance with HIPAA.

This process, and dozens of similar tasks performed every day by healthcare practices and organizations, are called workflows. And keep in mind, these are just the steps needed to process the request itself. In the scenario above, the practice hasn’t even responded yet to the request.

As you can see, even a workflow that’s seemingly as a simple as processing a pharmacy’s request for a refill can take many steps to complete—if the medical practice uses a legacy fax infrastructure, as most still do.

Nor is this the only drawback a healthcare organization faces when using a traditional fax environment.

Because it often involves inbound fax documents left sitting for long periods of time on an office fax machine or printer, this process can create security and HIPAA compliance issues. Also, because it requires manually entering information from the fax hardcopy into an EHR system, the process is vulnerable to human error. Or if a fax machine is down, sometimes the fax might go to another printer and get lost. Then, additional requests for documentation might occur. If that fax is finally found, duplication of records can also occur. Moreover, maintaining the physical infrastructure to facilitate this process—fax machines or multifunction printers, paper, ink or toner cartridges, dedicated fax telephone lines—can add substantial costs to the practice over time.

Which is why healthcare organizations of all types—providers, practices, pharmacies, etc.—can benefit significantly from making the switch to cloud faxing. In addition to supporting an organization’s path toward digital maturity and interoperability with secure document exchange, the move to cloud faxing can also help healthcare practices streamline their most common workflows, lower costs, and improve patient care.

Here are just a few specific examples of how cloud faxing can optimize workflow processes across the entire healthcare industry.

1. Pharmacies

When it comes transmitting information about patients’ prescription drugs, the law is very strict.

For example, a fax between a pharmacy and healthcare practice or hospital must contain specific patient information and be manually signed by the prescriber. It must also be sent over an approved fax process directly between the two parties, and it must be received by an accredited pharmacy.

If a system does not recognize a digital signature, this will create additional work and an increased delay in treatment, as the provider and prescriber communicate to resolve the situation. This, unfortunately, is a common occurrence when it comes to paper faxes between pharmacies and practices.

Cloud faxing can help solve this problem with HIPAA-compliant, secure document exchange.

2. Labs

Clinical labs’ workflows are often complicated and tedious. Patient security and regulations require meticulous management of every stage of the process—specimen collection, storage, labeling, payments, invoicing, and reporting of clinical results.

Cloud faxing can help improve these processes in several ways. For example, it removes data silos across the clinical laboratory, improving care coordination. Cloud faxing between disparate lab systems—such as LabCorp and Quest—will allow timely and cost-effective sharing of clinically relevant information. Moreover, standardizing data formats across departments can also help reduce errors and the time and costs associated with managing manual paper faxing, and data variability.

3. Prior authorizations

Payers and providers agree that prior authorizations are made far more complicated and time-consuming by a host of factors: lack of consistent data formats across systems, a lack of standards for attachments, limited integration between clinical and administrative systems, etc.

Cloud faxing can help here as well, by offering foundational interoperability and secure document exchange between systems for prior authorization information.

4. Release of information

Exchange of patients’ health information—timely, complete, and compatible with any digital system—is a necessary component for providers to deliver high-quality and cost-effective care.

But many laws and regulations govern how, when, what, and to whom protected health information can be released. For example, HIPAA’s Privacy Rule contains specific requirements for the management of this data to protect the confidentiality of the patient. Complicating these rules further, there are state laws that sometimes bolster—and sometimes seem to conflict with—the federal HIPAA guidelines.

Cloud fax can help here by providing a HIPAA-compliant means of transmitting patient information that satisfies the needs of multiple stakeholders, using multiple systems, to exchange Release of Information documents.

5. Radiology

Imaging centers are targeting both internal and external workflows to gain significant improvement in service delivery and, at the same time, making progress toward the realization of the electronic health record.

Because requests often come in to a radiology center via paper fax, exchanging information with a referring physician’s manual processes is often the limiting factor in turnaround time and delivery of reports. This can result in a profoundly negative experience for everyone involved: the referring physician, the radiologist, and of course the patient. Understanding and documenting a workflow will allow the advantage of recent advances in technology that facilitate workflow automation and optimization.

By allowing imaging centers to exchange this information efficiently and securely, cloud faxing can improve this common workflow in several ways—including enhanced delivery of care, increased productivity, and greater customer satisfaction.

6. Referrals

Many patients receive referrals to different providers and services: community resources, specialists, labs, emergency departments, and hospitals.

When referrals don’t get completed or fail to provide the information sought, it upsets patients and frustrates providers. This requires developing a trusted referral network and staff roles, workflows, and information systems to track and manage referrals.

Cloud fax is a dependable, secure document solution that provides the ability to send and receive digital referral information for practices to help patients get the care they need when they need them, and ensure providers get the information they need when they need it—at the lowest cost to the patient and the health system.

These changes are important steps toward improving patient outcomes while the work becomes more efficient and less stressful. To learn more about optimization workflows at your organization, read our whitepaper “Yes, Your Healthcare Organization’s Digital Workflows Can Include Cloud Fax, Too.”