2018, the End of the Fax Machine: Alleviating Headaches in Healthcare Information Exchange 

by GRACE MOEN – Content Writer for Health 2.0 covering news, trends, and reflections on the industry. 

Did you know that the fax machine was invented in 1843? That’s 175 years ago! At the time of its patent – filed by Scottish man, Alexander Bain – it was known as the “electric printing telegraph.” To put the year in context, that’s before the Civil War. And happens to predate the donut by four years. Obviously the fax machine looked a lot different back then, and in the years following it saw many iterations. Italians and the English had their hands on the invention as well, citing landmarks such as transmission to other countries, wireless transmission, and the (very exciting!) ability to send photographs and images.  Throughout the twentieth century, AT&T, Western Union, and finally Xerox got in the game and by the 1970s Xerox had patented and released a desktop model capable of sending a single page of text in six minutes flat, marking it as the first commercial and widely used fax machine.

Since then however the fax machine has been stuck at an innovation standstill. Due to low cost and its role as a faster alternative to snail mail, companies the world over adopted the fax machine en masse. Then along came the internet in 1990 and document sharing 2.0 went almost entirely digital with PDFs and email. For some industries however, this method of transmission simply doesn’t work and for health care, it poses a big problem.

There are very real pain points associated with using the fax machine in the health care setting. For starters, it’s slow. The tedium associated with printed paper, the filing, the sorting, the manual labor of organizing it all is too much. And you’re only one wrong number away from a HIPAA breach. Furthermore, significant time is required to follow-up with the receiver of your fax to ensure they have indeed received it. Wherever you fall on the iMessage “read receipt” conversation, most would admit that this feature applied to faxing would immediately relieve a glaring challenge within health care efficiency.

Stuck at a tangled, hairy crossroads in which the industry – and law – is pushing everyone towards a fully-digital experience the mere existence of analog information is a roadblock to complete digital adoption. The analog/digital divide hinders the ability for information to flow freely and by effect, for information to mean something when it arrives. Not to mention that while Millennials – anyone born between 1981 and 1996 according to Pew Research Center – may recognize a fax machine, they don’t know how to use it. And it stands to reason that Gen-Z, those born into a connected and technology-driven world wouldn’t (eh hem, shouldn’t) know what a fax machine is.

So where do we go from here? Certainly fax-alternative solutions abound. EMRs, FHIR, and SMART on FHIR are all major keys to freeing data from their respective silos. But it doesn’t seem to be enough. Lonnie Rae Kurlander, CEO of Medal, has spent years traversing the healthcare landscape. Forget trying to share data between different EMR systems, she faced near impossible hurdles to sharing her records between specialists within a single system. Even explicit patient consent – her own – wasn’t enough. Lonnie is lucky though in that she has a medical background, which paired with her not-so-unique struggle through the system, equipped her with all the armor and fighting spirit to adopt the cause.

Lonnie founded a technology company called Medal. Their product, Medal Print, is almost too easy. Don’t let the word print in the title fool you either – there is nothing analog about it. After a 90 second install process, the program unlocks data from literally any digital silo it may be trapped in. As quickly as you can click File –> Print, Medal will extract data and prepare it for sharing anywhere in the world. What’s more, Medal’s NLP function allows the user to search keywords, synonyms, and related terms to create a succinct, relevant and most importantly, actionable, patient narrative. In short, Medal’s product helps medical professionals send, receive, and make meaning from patient data faster than ever before.

Once a breakthrough, the fax machine is now an archaic “technology” that has got to go. And in the midst of start-ups proposing a myriad of solutions to circumvent systems and bridge silos in health care, the fax machine is holding us back. Farzad Mostashari agrees. “I think if we want to kill the fax, we need to schedule a funeral.”

On September 18 Lonnie Rae Kurlander will make her Health 2.0 debut on stage during 3 CEOs. The session is a series of intimate interviews between journalists and CEOs who get into real talk about what’s going well and what’s going on behind the scenes. Join us for the 12th Annual Fall Conference – the frontier for new technologies – this September 16-19 in California.