The next big EHR interoperability idea?

Medical Economics Journal, September 10, 2018 edition , Volume 95, Issue 17

Eliminate fax machines.

By its own account, the federal government has spent more than $35 billion to get the nation’s physicians to use and share data via EHRs. Yet, it continues to be thwarted by technology that retails for less than $100: the fax machine.

CMS Administrator Seema Verma said recently that EHR technology is making physicians’ work harder, causing more burnout. As a result, physicians are turning to fax machines as the next best thing to share data.

Yes, that staple of the 1980s remains more technologically consistent for some physicians than the sleek, drop-down menu-driven software CMS and other agencies have banked on to revolutionize healthcare. And it’s this subset of medical Luddites that’s causing a thorn in the side of regulators. So much so that Verma gave health IT developers a mission: “Help us make every doctor’s office in America a fax-free zone by 2020,” she said, speaking at a recent ONC Interoperability Forum in Washington, D.C.

Now here’s what Verma means: It’s 2018. We do everything on smartphones from detailed records of every morsel of what we’ve eaten this week to how many steps we’ve taken. But in healthcare, our healers would rather figure out whether you transmit a paper record face up or face down in a fax machine than utilize our $35 billion investment. Let’s get to interoperability.

Verma touted a future featuring a truly interoperable healthcare system where patients can access records at any time and physicians can communicate effectively and efficiently.

“The reality is that once information is freely flowing from the patient to the provider, the advances in coordinated, value-based and patient-centric care will be even greater than anything we can imagine today,” she said.

Who can blame physicians for using tried-and-true communication that has served them well for years? It doesn’t make them “old school” or non-believers in technology, it makes them smart doctors. They don’t spend time on the phone with customer support, develop work-arounds to make the tool work for them, and they don’t spend thousands a year to maintain their fax machines.

Physicians are intelligent group. Until interoperability becomes a reality, they will use all tools at their disposal to effectively treat their patients. If the end of the fax machine means the dawn of true EHR interoperability, they’ll be the first one to turn in their ink cartridges.

But until the government can stop talking about interoperable systems and make them a reality, a “send” button may be the least stressful option for many of the nation’s physicians.