October 25, 2021 – The conversation about interoperability tends to focus on new and emerging standards and technologies as the future of health data exchange, but what becomes of healthcare organizations unable to implement the latest and greatest solutions?
For interoperability to move forward and have widespread impact on the healthcare industry, existing and emerging modes of information sharing must be able to connect and support an ecosystem that enables healthcare IT systems of many types to participate in robust health
Through a product-agnostic approach, once the ever-shifting interoperability challenge is solved, healthcare organizations can then move on to the task of structuring data irrespective of its point of entry and allowing for the application of powerful technologies that help deliver actionable information to the point of care. But to get this far, stakeholders must first bridge the gap between established and brand-new methods for transmitting protected health information and other data.
Looking back so that we can look ahead
“Thinking about the technology that’s going into play as being something that’s also backward compatible doesn’t seem to be entering the conversation at all,” says John Nebergall,COO of Consensus Cloud Solutions. “Not everybody can keep up with the pace of technical innovation, and we need to look back when we look ahead because we can still use other methods effectively to be able to reach the same end goals.”
Backward compatibility is essential to advancing interoperability considering that numerous solutions and protocols enable health data exchange today. The push from federal officials to increasingly employ Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources (FHIR) to view, transmit, and download health information is the right path, but much of the industry still relies on their existing technologies and protocols to ensure that pertinent health information is available to providers at the point of care. This cannot be ignored.
Cloud fax may lack the flashiness of FHIR and other recent standards, but it is just as effective and can be made even more so by creating a digital ecosystem that transforms data sent using fax protocols into structured information digestible by the receiver’s system of choice.
“The particular architecture that healthcare organizations want to put in place is entirely their call,” Nebergall explains. “The question is: Can we live within that ecosystem and be able to deliver what we need to deliver? We’ve been successful at being able to do that. In fact, we’ve been able to do that with a technology that some people think is sort of outdated and doesn’t really account for anything anymore. The reality is that fax is a very useful, secure, reliable, and inexpensive protocol for moving information from point A to point B electronically.”
Moving beyond faxing to secure data exchange
“When you think of this as digital cloud fax technologies, the fax protocol is extremely secure. The reason it’s been used for so long and is still in use is because it is very difficult for information that is faxed from point A to point B to be intercepted in transit,” Nebergall maintains.
In a highly regulated industry such as healthcare where regulators are pushing healthcare organizations to improve information sharing while complying with HIPAA and HITECH, a proven and affordable transport mechanism checks all the boxes. And what distinguishes cloud fax from traditional fax technology is the former truly digital nature.
Paperless technology that restructures data takes data exchange to a new level
“That’s the concept that we try to make sure that we can solve for. Our digital cloud fax technology is completely paperless. It’s fully electronic. It is digital right in its name and highly secure, and it’s that same reliable fax protocol that people are used to using,” adds Nebergall.
Its digital capabilities aside, cloud fax is especially adept at accommodating paper-based workflows, which are still a common occurrence in healthcare despite protests calling for the industry to axe the fax machine.
“We’ve all had the experience at the doctor’s office that at some point, there’s a piece of paper involved. As soon as that paper appears, fax is the superior workflow,” says Nebergall. “The advantage here, though, is that you eliminate the paper, introduce electronic workflows and create an atmosphere that feels comfortable, even though you’re moving forward. It’s an incremental step forward, but it is an important step because eliminating the paper goes a long way to making everything much more efficient in the office.”
But cloud fax can even take things a step further once paper becomes digitized:
“What we want to be able to do is send a fax on one side, deliver an HL7 message on the other, and have the whole thing be seamless,” Nebergall explains. “We want to have a platform that’s going to be agnostic to the kind of protocol that you use. If you’re using Direct, HL7 FHIR, fax — it doesn’t matter. I can accept a message in any of those protocols. And then on the receiving end, you get your choice. How do you want it delivered to you? And I can apply my technology like magic. So, it comes in one way, goes out another. Both ends are happy.”
The future of interoperability is now
By creating a digital ecosystem for interoperability and health data exchange, innovators are then able to apply powerful technologies such as artificial intelligence, machine learning and natural language processing to give structure to information no matter where it originates. The future of interoperability is now.
“When you apply those kinds of technology to the issue of rendering a fax into an EHR system or some other system of record as searchable and structured data, the problem is very solvable. And in fact, we’re solving it today,” Nebergall emphasizes.
For the healthcare industry to enter the next phase of interoperability, it must first come to terms with how data becomes actionable information in the hands of providers, payers, and patients. Doing so begins by getting documents into a digital environment where artificial intelligence and automation can do the heavy lifting behind the scenes that not only securely delivers information from one system to another but also gives structure to data that is immediately available and usable by the receiver. In other words, the receiver can then extract the data required to quickly make decisions that can save money, time, and even improve health outcomes.