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Recent cyberattacks exposed health care’s biggest vulnerabilities. Are you overlooking this simple and secure secret weapon?

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Article

While there’s no easy fix to stop the attacks, there is huge potential in digital cloud fax — a simple, often overlooked way to communicate.

Protecting patient data: ©Song About Summer - stock.adobe.com

Protecting patient data: ©Song About Summer - stock.adobe.com

In the aftermath of the recent cyberattack on a major health care system, most headlines have focused on the operational disruptions stemming from the data breach, which triggered nationwide delays in processing payment claims. As crippling as these financial and operational ripples have been for providers, the underlying issue that demands attention is the resulting disruption to patient care.

When systems went offline to minimize the spread of the attack, outages prevented providers from electronically filling prescriptions or processing claims and copays — leaving many patients without timely, affordable access to life-saving medications and other medical services. These disruptions highlight critical vulnerabilities in the health care system while underscoring the vital importance of protecting patients’ health and safety.

In 2023 alone, a record 133 million individuals had their health care data stolen or otherwise exposed — and those numbers are already growing in early 2024. Despite the $22 million ransom paid for a recent attack, as many as one-third of Americans (110 million people) may be impacted by this data breach, putting their personal information at risk.

These devastating statistics serve as a wake-up call for the health care industry to rethink how we safeguard and secure the exchange of sensitive information by using more resilient, reliable data solutions. While there’s no easy fix to stop the attacks, there is huge potential in digital cloud fax — a simple, often overlooked way to communicate, but not the awkward and antiquated fax machine.

A secret weapon for health care cybersecurity

During the recent outages, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services encouraged providers to resort to faxing, calling, or sending paper versions of claims and prescriptions while electronic systems were down. Even prior to the latest attack, more than three-quarters of medical communications happened through fax.

The traditional fax machine, an antiquated device still widely relied upon, is fraught with time- and labor-intensive processes, not to mention potential security vulnerabilities. Digital cloud fax, however, is a nimble, modern improvement to its paper-based predecessor that provided a reliable lifeline for the health care industry during the recent disruptions. With this HIPAA-compliant technology, hospitals and other health care facilities can send and receive sensitive health data in a way that supports patient privacy, data security, and cost efficiency. Unlike paper fax machines that pose a single point of failure, cloud faxing is nearly always available (thanks to its built-in redundancies) and always protected (thanks to its data encryption and advanced security capabilities).

Beyond its cybersecurity advantages, cloud fax solutions integrate seamlessly into existing workflows to automate error-prone manual tasks like data entry. Leveraging intelligent data extraction, advanced digital faxing solutions unlock unstructured data within documents, including handwritten notes and PDFs, and transfer structured data directly into electronic health records and other systems. By streamlining information exchange with digital faxing and intelligent data extraction, health care providers can unlock efficiencies that accelerate care for patients.

Resiliency and reimagined workflows

Even with tighter safeguards in place, many experts believe cyberattacks are inevitable in health care, which is highly targeted as an industry because of its access to sensitive patient information.

Against the imminent threat of failures and outages of this magnitude, our health care system needs a low-barrier solution that can continue exchanging data securely across all care settings, regardless of technological capabilities. From a health equity standpoint, we must ensure that care settings serving the most vulnerable patients — such as home health, assisted living, birthing centers, substance use disorder clinics, skilled nursing facilities, and more — can still send, receive, and efficiently use information in the event of a cyberattack.

As health care organizations generate and collect more patient data than ever before, they must be increasingly mindful of how they’re storing, securing, analyzing, and sharing information. At a time when the vast majority of health care data — 80%, in most estimations — is unstructured, organizations need failsafe solutions to translate and exchange structured data they can actually use.

Fax may not always be the first choice of communication for health care industry stakeholders, but advanced faxing solutions are a viable and reliable option to keep communication and care flowing. As an efficient and secure method of exchanging sensitive data, cloud faxing offers the resilient, streamlined solution that health care providers and patients need to safeguard and share sensitive information.

Bevey Miner is executive vice president, healthcare strategy and policy for Consensus Cloud Solutions.

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