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Kickin’ It Old School: 7 Pre-EMR Technologies to Implement Today

Posted on November 2, 2011 I Written By

As Social Marketing Director at Billian, Jennifer Dennard is responsible for the continuing development and implementation of the company's social media strategies for Billian's HealthDATA and Porter Research. She is a regular contributor to a number of healthcare blogs and currently manages social marketing channels for the Health IT Leadership Summit and Technology Association of Georgia’s Health Society. You can find her on Twitter @JennDennard.

I was on the phone recently with an insurance company representative, inquiring about their policies, premiums and hidden caveats. During the middle of my call, the rep tells me his computer seems to have frozen up, and that he can’t move forward with answering my questions because he literally can’t move to the next screen containing the answers. “But wait,” he says excitedly, “I do have some paper to read off of.”

I chuckled to myself thinking of how many times physicians have had a similar experience, much to the consternation of electronic medical records (EMRs) vendors. Ah, good ‘ole paper. Healthcare’s last bastion of pre-HITECH document keeping. It’s always there when you need it – if you still have it.

This thinking transitions nicely into the topic of “old-school” technologies physicians should consider before going completely digital with their documentation in the form of an EMR. Culled from several recent and not-so-recent articles (See “10 technologies to embrace before EMRs,” and “HIT Projects You Can Implement Today”), with a few of my own suggestions thrown in for good measure, the list below goes from extremely low-tech to on-the-verge-of-clinical technologies.

1. Copy Machine/Printer Combo
You may laugh at the simplicity, but if a doctor’s computer ever freezes up, a copy of a patient’s paper chart will come in very handy.

2. Fax Server
Again, simplistic in nature, but elemental in sharing data with other offices. Perhaps we’ll see resurgence in fax technology now that the government has eased EMR requirements associated with participation in accountable care organizations.

3. Instant Messaging
So 2008, but still a very effective method of communication amongst an office’s nurses, clinicians and front-desk staff.

4. Email
For the love of Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman, who didn’t have access to such an easy form of communication, set up an email account – at least for the business side of your office. It would be nice if ALL physicians (including my daughter’s pediatrician) had secure email messaging with their patients, but that’s a whole other blog.

5. IT Infrastructure
You’ve got to build the foundation before you can start wiring the house. As John Lynn mentions in the second article referenced above, “Good IT companies will come and do an analysis of your current IT setup for free.”

6. Microsoft Office and Google Apps
As HIT consultant Shahid Shah mentions in the first article referenced above, free tools will help an office get its feet wet before diving into a full-fledged EMR. These two in particular have “dirt simple” documentation management that allows everyone in the office to be on the same page.

7. Document Imaging
Most scanners come with basic imaging software already included, Shah explains, adding that once physicians are good at scanning and paper digitalization, they can move on to “medical grade” document management that can improve productivity.
What other tools would you suggest to providers looking to ease their way into EMR adoption? Please share your comments below.

Guest Post: The Future of Fax Software in Healthcare

Posted on September 9, 2011 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the HealthcareScene.com blog network which currently consists of 10 blogs containing over 8000 articles with John having written over 4000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 16 million times. John also manages Healthcare IT Central and Healthcare IT Today, the leading career Health IT job board and blog. John is co-founder of InfluentialNetworks.com and Physia.com. John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can also be found on Twitter: @techguy and @ehrandhit and LinkedIn.

People working in modern office environments could be forgiven for regarding faxing as a dead, outdated means of communication. However, there are many sectors, especially the healthcare industry, that still make extensive use of faxing.

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) in the US, which requires the industry to store and transmit health information electronically and in a secure manner, has put pressure on organizations to assess how they transmit data and take appropriate measures to become compliant. Faxing is widely used as the method of this secure document transmission. The solution for many healthcare organizations has been to take faxing into the 21st century using integrated fax servers. This software integrates with widely used email and health record systems, integrates with the organization’s existing phone systems, and provides a wealth of features to make life easier for medical professionals, at the same time as ensuring legal compliance.

Although email has replaced faxing in many industries, it does have inherent limitations that do not affect fax. In some healthcare environments, pen and paper are still used for a number of tasks, and this written information is far more straightforward to transmit via fax, as are manual signatures.

It is however fair to say that some aspects of traditional faxing are outdated, expensive, and not really fit for purpose in a modern environment.

Environmental awareness is encouraging all industries to be increasingly paperless, and traditional faxing involves considerable costs in terms of paper and ink, not to mention the human resource required to manually send faxes and wait for responses. Fax software solutions however help to reduce these costs, and at the same time increase information security.

Although the HIPAA regulations do not explicitly prohibit the use of manual faxing, using fax the traditional way introduces disadvantages that make it harder and more resource intensive to properly comply with the act. Receipt of every fax needs to be confirmed by the sender, and transmission reports filed. It is clear that the considerable staff resource required to do this properly is unsustainable, and likely to introduce delays to the flow of information.

Good fax software solutions are designed specifically to aid compliance, and integrate with modern email servers, as well as dedicated health records programs. Faxes are delivered directly to the medical application or email client. By integrating with these systems, the fax software is able to improve fax security by making use of authentication methods already in place on the network – ensuring faxes are only received and seen by intended recipients. With traditional hardcopy faxes, there is always an inherent risk that unauthorized personnel may see a fax, even if the fax machine is stored in a secured area, as required by HIPAA regulations.

The staff resource overhead involved in outbound faxes is also reduced with the use of fax software. Outbound faxes are sent directly from the user’s email client. The software handles the storage and management of the transmission reports, removing the need for these to be manually filed. The time spent processing each fax is further reduced when good fax software automatically adds the cover pages required by the HIPAA regulations, stating that the fax contains medical information.

Additionally, as the IT infrastructure has now come to encompass the phone system as well, with digital and IP-based phone systems. The central fax server can leverage the considerable investment that has already been made to these phone systems, allowing for the implementation of FoIP (Fax over IP), rather than maintaining analog phone lines expressly for the purpose of having multiple fax machines.

The use of fax shows no sign of being replaced by other communication methods in the medical industry. It offers clear advantages over email when it comes to written text and signatures and, during transmission, is more secure than email traffic, as the data travels over conventional phone systems, which are difficult to compromise without a wire tap!

Advanced software allows the medical industry to benefit from these inherent advantages without stepping away from the modern IT system and the interoperability between old and new brings with it several cost benefits: less physical machines, phone lines, paper and ink.

This guest post was provided by Ben Taylor on behalf of GFI Software Ltd. GFI is a leading software developer that provides a single source for network administrators to address their network security, content security and messaging needs. Find out more about fax software.

All product and company names herein may be trademarks of their respective owners.