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Schools & Faxing – 3 Things You Need to Know About Internet Faxing

Schools & Faxing – 3 Things You Need to Know About Internet Faxing

3 Things You Need to Know

It’s an oddity of our modern era. In many ways, your educational institution is probably running cutting-edge systems for most of normal operations — fully digitized student records, online platforms for students to access coursework, and WiFi throughout the campus allowing to students to connect and work (or play). These are tools that less than a generation ago would have sounded like science fiction.

And yet, if your school is like most, chances are that in the very same administrative offices across your campus where your employees are running sophisticated digital admin platforms and connecting to the Internet at blazing-fast speeds, they’re also transmitting key documents every day using a technology invented more than 150 years ago.

(For an abbreviated history lesson on the commercial fax machine — starting in 1985, not in 1843 when the technology was actually invented — eFax Corporate has prepared a fun “Fax to the Future infographic for you.)

Of course, your industry is not alone. Education is only one of many industries that still, well into the second decade of the twenty-first century, operate traditional fax machines right alongside their enterprise-caliber computers, tablets and high-end servers. Healthcare, finance, legal, real estate, consulting, transportation and a host of other industries still do a lot of their communicating and document transmission via old-fashioned, analog faxing.

What Educational Institutions Need to Know About Their Fax Infrastructure

One of the things that sets your institution apart, though, is that as educators you have some unique responsibilities and constraints in terms of how, where and with whom you share many of the most common types of data you transmit — such as students’ education and medical records, disclosure forms and financial information.

And although faxing continues to dominate across schools as the primary transmission technology for many of these documents, it does have some potential drawbacks for educational institutions.

Here are three questions to ask about your fax process to determine if it’s still the right protocol for your sensitive student data and already-busy administrative staff.

1. Is your current fax process secure?

One of the primary problems with traditional desktop fax machines in an institution such as a school (as with a medical office or a law firm) is that incoming paper faxes simply print out on the fax’s tray — where anyone walking by can see them or even grab them by mistake. This is obviously a problem when such faxes contain a student’s family financial background, transcripts, medical records or other sensitive personal information.

Similarly, an outbound fax is also at risk of being viewed or taken by unauthorized personnel if the sender in your administrative offices leaves the fax machine after dialing the number. Even if that fax is transmitted successfully to its recipient, the printed copy of the outbound document can sit unattended on your office’s fax machine indefinitely.

This of course raises all sorts of questions about student privacy and the security of their data. You certainly put more security controls on the student data you are protecting in your databases, and you probably have guidelines instructing your staff, for example, not to leave digital copies of student records lying around the office on an unencrypted flash drive.

2. Is your current fax process FERPA compliant?

Another reason educational institutions like yours are advised to take a thorough, critical look at their faxing infrastructure is that schools are legally obligated to take specific steps regarding how they protect student data — under the federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, or FERPA.

Although the law went into effect more than 40 years ago, FERPA has undergone many changes and additions to reflect the significant new technologies that have entered widespread use since its passage in 1974. That makes sense, when you consider that email, the Internet, text messaging and many other forms of communicating and sharing information hadn’t hit the scene until decades after FERPA’s passage. Ironically in fact, one of the few protocols that hasn’t changed much since FERPA was written is the analog fax machine!

What all of this means for you and your organization is that you need to be sure that the way you are transmitting student information by fax complies with the complicated language of FERPA — including the new guidance on the law just released in 2014.

The key question you need answered, then, is whether your educational institution’s paper-based faxing processes meet the rules and guidelines covered under FERPA for safeguarding your students’ data privacy and security.

3. Is your current fax process the most efficient, productive way to fax?

Let’s say that your existing fax infrastructure does meet your institution’s threshold for both student data security and regulatory compliance when it comes to transmitting your students’ personally identifiable information. (Although if you’re using desktop fax machines, we’ll make an, ahem, educated guess that you’ve still got work to do both in terms of security and compliance.)

What about staff productivity? What about cost-effectiveness? Does your legacy, paper-based fax infrastructure represent the best solution for your institution now or going forward?

Again, we’ll assert no.

That’s because traditional analog faxing has many cost and productivity drawbacks for any organization — and schools are no exception.

education keyboard

The productivity downside to traditional faxing.

Let’s start with the productivity problems inherent in a legacy faxing system. With your desktop fax infrastructure, your staff cannot send or receive important, time-sensitive faxes on the go. Unlike the email or online file sharing they probably do on a regular basis, your employees can fax only if they’re physically in front of one of your school’s fax machines.

What’s more, sending documents by fax often means several time-consuming steps rarely necessary anymore in much of the rest of your staff’s daily workflows — printing or copying documents, standing at a fax machine, filing the paper copies (securely, of course) after sending, redialing busy fax numbers, waiting for the delivery confirmation, and sometimes waiting in line for access to the fax machine.

And finally, when it comes to distributed and decentralized fax machines spread across your campus, there’s the question of usage monitoring, record-keeping and detailed audit trails. With a series of standalone machines, each with its own dedicated fax phone line, your IT team will have real difficulty in keeping track of your school’s overall fax usage, and you’ll have no way of digitally tracking and storing records of all inbound and outbound faxes. This could prove problematic in the event your institution needs those comprehensive records for audit or regulatory reasons.

The cost downside of traditional faxing.

Desktop fax machines are also expensive, requiring paper, ink, maintenance, repairs and upgrades — not to mention the high monthly costs of maintaining dedicated analog phone lines to power their fax transmissions.

Cloud Faxing: The Smart Solution for Educational Institutions

There is a single solution that can address all of these issues with your legacy fax system — its inherent gaps in student data security, its potential areas of noncompliance with FERPA’s strict guidelines, and the productivity and cost-effectiveness drawbacks of paper-based faxing. That solution is online cloud faxing.

Cloud faxing is a solution proven to improve the faxing process for business and other organizations — including schools and universities — by enabling employees to send and receive faxes securely by email online from any desktop, tablet or smartphone.

Internet faxing eliminates the need for organizations to maintain, troubleshoot and upgrade their legacy fax hardware, while also allowing them to stop paying high monthly costs for their dedicated fax phone lines.

At the same time, online faxing greatly enhances the security and privacy of fax documents, by transmitting those documents with advanced encryption, via email, and forwarding them directly and only to the authorized recipient’s email inbox — as opposed to simply leaving them sitting on an office fax machine.

Cloud faxing also enables organizations’ IT departments and other designated administrators to easily track, monitor and manage all fax usage organization-wide — ideal for record keeping and staying on the right side of regulators.  

For Cloud Faxing, You Can Trust Industry Leader eFax Corporate

When it comes to entrusting your students’ personally identifiable information and other sensitive school data to a cloud fax solution, you should trust only the world leader. For 20 years, that has been the same provider — eFax Corporate.

Trusted by more heavily regulated organizations than any other cloud fax provider, eFax Corporate is also the choice for most of the Fortune 500 and thousands of other midsized to large businesses.

Our cloud fax services can help your educational institution tighten up your fax security, meet FERPA compliance requirements, and improve your overall fax productivity.

Learn more about how eFax Corporate can help your school.

Send and receive faxes in minutes.

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POTS: The End of An Era and Start of New Beginnings

POTS: The End of An Era and Start of New Beginnings

After a remarkable 100-year-run, the FCC is officially closing the door on traditional analog copper POTS (Plain Old Telephone Service) – otherwise known as the copper wires connected to a standard telephone, providing power and connectivity to a telephone provider’s central switching system. 

The old-fashioned copper wires have been known for their phone service business uses including analog fax, voice, and alarm lines. However, holding on to the traditional copper wires which make up the foundation of this aging infrastructure could cause major disruptions to your organization’s workflow in the ever-evolving technological landscape, and now is the time to act. 


The Order 

The FCC has issued Order 10-72A1, which mandates that all POTS Lines in the USA be replaced with an alternative service by August 2, 2022. Read the latest updates from the FCC.


The Affect 

The world we live in continues to push forward in the realm of interoperability – a world where different systems or software can exchange and make use of information through the cloud. Imagine being able to fax important documents securely and efficiently by way of digital cloud fax technology instead of transmitting information precariously by copper wire running down the side of your street. Furthermore, recent studies show companies transitioning to cloud voice more now than ever. 

Traditional wired systems are being actively replaced by data-driven and wireless delivery services via cloud, which are becoming main solutions for communication as we further interoperable environments. The transition to next-generation technology has been slow, even with carriers encouraging and incentivizing customers to make the switch. 

Today, there are more than 36 million active POTS lines being used to support businesses in the United States. Many large corporations and businesses lean heavily on these lines for needs revolving around their in-house fax machines. Too much time is spent scanning, uploading, faxing, and filing – the never-ending cycle of the paper-based workflow. In addition to time-consuming clerical work, these in-house fax machines require constant updates – both physical and systematic – which require manual labor and a hefty payment. Analog Fax lines tied to traditional fax machines is a serious issue as no solution currently exists when clients move to Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) solutions. 


The Cost 

Not only is there the issue of communication between POTS and technologically advanced systems, but there is a critical issue around cost. The cost alone to service businesses with a POTS-based infrastructure is continuing to skyrocket as the price of copper coupled with the aging copper networks are simply too high to maintain. Telecom Carriers dealing with this increased cost are passing it on to their customers, incentivizing them to convert to less expensive next-generation technology. 

While some businesses might be hesitant to make the switch, it’s important to keep in mind that the benefits far outweigh any risks or roadblocks that might arise. Businesses will, however, make one of two options when deciding to make their move: stick with their current provider, or find a new provider specifically suited to fit their migration needs. 


The Solution

We invite you to work with and trust eFax Corporate: the secure cloud fax solution that has been trusted and relied on by Fortune 500 Companies for over 25 years. Our cost-effective, compliant cloud faxing service requires no hardware or software. 

  • eFax Corporate works seamlessly with a business’ current network operations 
  • Clients can easily integrate online faxing with existing SAP applications or use our custom Fax API to integrate to EMRs and other database systems 
  • Businesses can also integrate eFax Corporate to fax directly from multifunction printers and devices (MFPs) 
  • Internet faxing with eFax Corporate gives your business a streamlined faxing process and substantially lowers overall faxing costs 
  • Our HITRUST CSF Certified® services can help businesses meet industry-specific compliance requirements from HIPAA and HITECH to SOX, GLBA compliance and more 

Our cloud fax solution boosts interoperability by leveraging the fact that everyone already has fax technology, as it remains one of the most widely used methods of exchanging private records world-wide. 

Don’t wait – make the switch to eFax Corporate today. 

For more information on our digital cloud fax solution, please visit enterprise.efax.com.

Send and receive faxes in minutes.

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Pandemic Exposes Healthcare’s Achilles’ Heel

Pandemic Exposes Healthcare’s Achilles’ Heel

As COVID-19 pushes our nation’s healthcare system to the brink, stories continue making headlines of how public health officials in many cities throughout the country are weeding through stacks of paper test results as they look to trace cases and quarantine patients. In other instances, people are waiting longer to find out if they have coronavirus because nasal swab test results are being paper faxed, which cause latency getting results into systems. To think we are relying on paper processes as the virus surges in many areas of our country is problematic. Add to the fact that 9 billion healthcare-related faxes were sent in 2018 (Nebergall, “Fax Technology is the Cornerstone of Interoperability. Here’s Why,” Open Health News, Feb. 6, 2019) and it is clear that now is the time for us to address healthcare’s Achilles’ heel – legacy paper communication systems.

Use of traditional paper fax, specifically the fax machine, is around because it is an established familiar technology that most people would agree works. After all, you can reliably send information from one person to another. However, when you are in the business of healthcare, your focus is on the quality and safety of patients and the thought of using new technologies can be a distraction which takes away from familiar workflows. Simply stated, the fax machine has proven itself year after year to be an easy way of sending and receiving information. But that doesn’t mean using paper fax the way many have been using it for decades is still the most efficient, convenient and secure way of sharing patient information between providers. If providers and public health officials are expected to stop using the fax machine as we know it, there needs to be an easy to use, reliable, affordable, secure technology that allows interoperability of all data for electronic health information to be shared.


An effective, secure and convenient alternative

The issue with paper faxes is the workflow and lack of system integration, which means added time for data to be actionable. Manual workflows needed to process paper documents are slow, laborious, error-prone and at times, incomplete. Paper faxing can be inexpensively replaced immediately with Digital Cloud Fax Technology (DCFT) which improves the digital transmission of information by eliminating paper, optimizing workflows and providing the ability for secure foundational interoperability. 

For those unfamiliar with this technology, digital cloud fax is a secure, paperless, cost effective, and proven way for medical professionals to share documents and records. When professionally installed, it is HIPAA-compliant and falls into the Health Information Management Systems Society’s (HIMSS) category of “foundational interoperability.” Due to its simplicity and universal acceptance within healthcare, digital cloud fax technology is widely used in every setting with particular importance in communities that struggle to afford sophisticated electronic health-record systems, including public health, rural healthcare organizations and financially challenged urban clinics.

Compared to physical faxing, cloud faxing works like this: An employee creates an email, types in the recipient address, types a cover letter and hits “send.” The fax is sent securely into a determined workflow for an easy queue to manage documents, with a confirmation arriving a few minutes later. There is no printing, no scanning, no dialing, no waiting and no paper to file.

If a higher level of security is required, cloud faxing can transmit documents using TLS 1.2 and store them in a secure server with 256-bit encryption. Users log in to the server to view faxes.


Interoperability: the way forward

If interoperability of systems was easy and commonplace, faxing as we know it would be eliminated. Instead, data from disparate systems within a healthcare facility doesn’t always flow into the EHR, which means that same patient data stays behind as a patient move from provider to provider. Instead, connecting a provider’s EHR to its ambulatory physician EHRs, along with imaging, labs, pharmacy and more, requires specific connections between each system and the treating provider’s core EHR. Bringing data to a common platform multiplies the number of required connections exponentially.

To help eliminate the continued burden paper holds on the healthcare industry, while at the same time helping make provider systems more interoperable, earlier this year, we introduced a platform that connects healthcare organizations through the continuum-of-care. Called Consensus, the platform offers one comprehensive connection with a simple, inbox-like dashboard to manage all incoming and outgoing patient documents including digital cloud faxes, Direct Secure Messaging, patient query and API integration into health exchange networks. With Consensus, providers can access leading EMR/EHR systems through CommonWell and Carequality, plus connections to ACOs and HIE data, allowing for the digital exchange of electronic health information between physicians, public health departments and labs.


Conclusion

Moving beyond paper eases operational and technological burdens that cause bottlenecks which impact patient care and threaten to cripple a public health system that has classically been underfunded by our nation’s healthcare system. What is happening with the lack of effective data sharing at several public health departments and what will undoubtedly happen elsewhere as the virus continues to surge in other areas of our county – including rural populations – can be avoided with a comprehensive interoperability system at our fingertips. One that integrates traditional faxing technology with efficient document management so that providers can exchange patient information electronically. And do so both safely and efficiently.

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New Healthcare Interoperability Solution Leverages Age-Old Technology

New Healthcare Interoperability Solution Leverages Age-Old Technology

Despite attempts to eliminate the fax machine in healthcare, it continues to be relied upon by many providers. Not only is faxing commonplace in many healthcare organizations throughout the country, but the use of traditional fax for data exchange continues to rise, according to the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology’s (ONC) State of Interoperability among U.S. Non-federal Acute Care Hospitals in 2018 Report, released in March 2020.

In a recent article published in Healthcare IT Today, Consensus’s John Nebergall discusses how, although many healthcare organizations still rely on fax machines as their primary way to send patient information to other providers external to their network, cloud fax technology is also on the rise:

According to the ONC, from 2017 to 2018, the use of eFax to send and receive care records increased 3% and 7%, respectively.

“eFax, or cloud faxing as it’s more commonly called, is one of the best protocols for rapid, reliable and scalable data transfer,” stated John Nebergall, Senior Vice President and General Manager of Cloud Faxing at Consensus. “Cloud faxing means having a fully electronic workflow. There is no paper, no physical fax machine, yet it uses tried-and-true fax protocols.”

With a traditional fax machine, patient information would need to be printed from the EHR, walked over to the fax machine and sent through, page by agonizing page. Once confirmation the fax was received properly, the paper record would need to be shredded in order to protect patient privacy. Babysitting this entire process is a tremendous waste of precious healthcare resources.

Cloud faxing eliminates all of this. With the click of a button, information from an EHR (and most other hospital systems) can be turned into a fax transmission and sent to the recipient via the Internet. “It’s quick, convenient and secure” said Nebergall.Read the full article in Healthcare IT Today.

Send and receive faxes in minutes.

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Hey Smart Speaker, Are You HIPAA Compliant?

Hey Smart Speaker, Are You HIPAA Compliant?

Do you trust your virtual assistant program with sensitive patient data or personal information? Here’s why you shouldn’t.

Smart speakers are perhaps the fastest-growing trend in the tech world. These single-unit wireless speakers or soundbars built with artificial intelligence (AI) come from Amazon, Apple, Google, Microsoft and Samsung (with more brands to hit the market soon).

Though originally intended for home use, smart speakers have gradually edged their way into medical offices. For this reason, it’s a natural progression that physicians and healthcare professionals will be enticed to use them for the convenience of note taking, web research, or even accessing medical records.

That could be a colossal mistake.

Virtual assistant programs like Alexa, Siri, Google Assistant, Cortana and Bixby are not in compliance with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) – at the time of this post. Hopefully, this will change in the near future, but for now, it’s critical to know that using these devices in a medical organization has serious data security risks.

Even within the short span of time that smart speakers have been commercially available, there are already many examples of the technology being implemented in hospital settings.

For example, some hospitals are experimenting with ways to use Alexa to help surgeons comply with a safety checklist before a procedure or offer Alexa apps that provide instructions patients can use at home. In fact, voice-activated patient tools have been rolled out in large health systems such as the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN, Northwell Health in New York and Carolinas HealthCare System in Charlotte, NC. Uses range from allowing users to access common topics related to first aid, to finding the nearest urgent care center and wait times.

These kinds of voice-activated tools may eventually become one of the essential ways patients deal with doctors and hospitals, as well as schedule appointments, access and update personal medical records, or refill prescriptions. From the hospital and doctor’s perspective, they might enable providers to more closely monitor patients at home, such as activation tools used for medication reminders.

Taking it a step further, smart speakers will most likely end up in patient rooms, where voice commands will operate televisions and other appliances, forward patient requests, and notifications to mobile devices used by doctors and nurses. Smart speakers may become integrated with building management system platforms, where voice control can adjust lighting levels and window blinds. These smart speakers could free up nurses and other staff, allowing them to spend less time running tedious, non-medical errands, and freeing them to spend more time on issues requiring actual medical expertise.

However, while there is great potential for positive impact of the technology, the issue is that still it needs additional advancements and protection to ensure that sensitive patient data is kept safe. Failure on the part of a staff member to secure medical record data could cost an organization hundreds of thousands of dollars, as well as supply cyber-criminals with an opportunity to commit identity theft.

Perhaps even more concerning is the increasingly creative ways cybercriminals are hacking and stealing data, particularly in the healthcare industry. Contrary to popular belief, digital devices like smart speakers are not immune to hacking. In fact, as reported in Wired recently, a group of Chinese hackers developed a technique for hijacking Amazon’s voice assistant gadget. Although Amazon has pushed out security fixes, it highlights the fact that in the age of the Internet of Things, nothing is ever 100% safe from hacking.

As was reported by NBC News, Candid Wueest, Symantec’s principal threat researcher, explained: “Someone could hack into these devices remotely and turn them into a listening device. Some of them even come with cameras, so they could see what you’re doing.”

Healthcare presents specific challenges related to HIPAA compliance for the security of patient data. The current structure of most smart speaker’s architecture doesn’t align with HIPAA restrictions, particularly in terms of access of personal health information (PHI). For example, a key challenge for Alexa is that they may not only transmit PHI to a user, but might also collect data through speech-to-text. The question then is how to prevent unauthorized access to that data, and whether HIPAA requirements for those devices be met and audited for compliance. In fact, this is a core task of the new Alexa health and wellness team, according to a recent CNBC article.

So while it might be tempting to bring an Amazon Echo, Google Home or HomePod to the office, until they become fully compliant, to do so would be risking HIPAA violations. Until such time that smart speaker technology has developed new advances that meet stringent compliance regulations, it would be better to use your smart speakers for the uses in which they were originally designed.

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Healthcare Interoperability Part 2: Information Blocking and Preparing for Broader Information Flow

Healthcare Interoperability Part 2: Information Blocking and Preparing for Broader Information Flow

In part 1, we described the debate on the role of APIs and FHIR that took place during the 4th Annual Current and Future State of Interoperability, a panel discussion sponsored by eFax Corporate and hosted by HealthcareNOW Radio.

The panel included moderator Matt Fisher, attorney with Mirick O’Connell; John Nebergall, vice president of Consensus; Chris Muir, director in the Standards Division of ONC; Dave Cassel, executive director of Carequality; and Jeff Coughlin, senior director of federal and state affairs for HIMSS.

In this post, we’ll focus on the panel’s discussion of proposed information blocking rules and how healthcare organizations can prepare for the broader information sharing inevitably coming to healthcare.

Not surprisingly, ONC’s Muir couldn’t speak to some information blocking questions, as the rule is currently under review. He did say that when meeting with patients and caregivers, he frequently hears complaints about getting access to information and expects the 21st Century Cures Act to mitigate some of those challenges.

He went on to say that although his agency seeks to address things like the security of APIs and potential problems stemming from deliberate information blocking, what he and his colleagues are really trying to do is create the preconditions for truly transforming healthcare—in which patients play a larger role in their healthcare and there is more competition in the healthcare technology field.

Meanwhile, there was a lively debate over the seven exceptions to information blocking penalties proposed by ONC, which include protecting patient safety, promoting the privacy of EHI, promoting the security of EHI, allowing recovery costs, excusing an actor from responding to infeasible requests, permitting the licensing of some interoperability elements, and allowing temporary exceptions for maintenance or improvements.

HIMSS’s Coughlin says his organization is mainly concerned with ensuring that the seven exceptions are focused in the right direction and had asked ONC for more information about what “broad sharing” would look like.

Carequality’s Cassel said he believes the information blocking rule will have some benefit in expanding on some of the progress already made, especially with regard to provider-to-provider interoperability and potentially opening up the interoperability to patients and others.

But Consensus’s Nebergall disagreed. “It’s a fragmented environment, with organizations in various stages of moving to value-based reimbursement. Laying out a clear and enforceable rule for what constitutes purposeful withholding of patient data would be nearly impossible,” he said.

Nebergall went on to point out that in addition to federal rules, healthcare leaders must consider state laws, sometimes for multiple states, making compliance even more complex. “Short timelines like compliance in 2020 could prove very costly for providers,” he said.


Proper preparation

The panelists differed in their advice for healthcare executives preparing for broader information sharing and information blocking penalties. Cassel said he encourages providers to begin work on the documentation to qualify for exceptions, should they be needed. He also said healthcare organizations should look at how information blocking fits within their overall compliance framework. “Have a compliance plan in place so that you can prioritize your technology-based efforts on the greatest risk or the greatest opportunity,” he said.

Coughlin said the organizations he regularly speaks with are preparing based on the proposed rule. “I think people are primed and ready and just waiting to see the final rule,” he said. He also noted the connection between  interoperability and other policy issues, such as value-based care.

“You can’t deliver value-based care without broad information exchange, and the burdens on providers are such that it’s important to minimize the amount of time clinicians spend trying to share information with other health systems.”

Nebergall had a different view, encouraging those involved with rulemaking to consider encouraging small steps that will lead to more participation at the provider level. “The reality of our healthcare system is that we have a very large middle-of-the-pack that is still dealing with highly manual paper processes,” he said.

“I think there is a ton of work left to do to adopt electronic workflows into the real world of how care is delivered, not only in hospitals, but also post-acute care and home healthcare. The idea of being able to share information like this is light years away from the reality of what these caregivers deal with every day.”Fax is the fiber of who work gets done at the clinical level—electronic transactions of any kind are dwarfed by fax, he said. “And if we keep focusing on the edge of the spear, we’re not going to provide what the “middle” needs, which is getting the information into electronic form so they can think about transmitting it.”

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Healthcare Interoperability Part 1: Debating the Role of APIs, plus FHIR’s Semantic Problem

Healthcare Interoperability Part 1: Debating the Role of APIs, plus FHIR’s Semantic Problem

Bring technologists together to discuss interoperability, and you’re going to hear a lot of acronyms, some words of wisdom, and a considerable amount of dissent.

That was the case at the 4th Annual Current and Future State of Interoperability, a panel discussion sponsored by eFax Corporate and hosted by HealthcareNOW Radio.

Indeed, there was little consensus on the first question asked by moderator Matt Fisher, an attorney with Mirick O’Connell. Fisher asked where APIs fit into current and future healthcare interoperability. “Connectivity is a big plus for APIs, giving healthcare organization the opportunity to expand their ecosystems,” said John Nebergall, vice president of Consensus. “But APIs are not going to solve your integration problems.”

Chris Muir, director in the Standards Division of ONC, agreed. “It’s not a full solution, but it’s helpful when patients need to access data from an ERHs or providers are using more than one EHR,” he said.

Dave Cassel, executive director of Carequality, saw things differently. “APIs are useful across the board,” he said. “There are challenges on the patient-access side, but they’re solvable. And giving patients more control over data access has benefits, including fewer HIPAA problems.”

Shifting the discussion slightly, Nebergall said the real issue is creating a way for patients to gather and exchange information in a way that’s useful to them. This is where technology other than APIs can be useful, providing a way to deliver information directly to patients rather than making them go from place to place to find it, he said.


FHIR’s semantic side

Asked about the Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources (FHIR) standard, Cassel said while there are always arguments about any given standard, there’s a lot of support in the industry for it. ONC’s Muir concurred, saying that people are supporting it and talking about trying to use it. “We’re seeing a lot of adoption of open APIs based on FHIR,” he said.

But Nebergall said there are serious issues on what he called the semantic side of FHIR. “FHIR holds great promise, but there’s not full consensus,” he said. “We see the use of different coding systems with prior data normalization.”

Jeff Coughlin, senior director of federal and state affairs for HIMSS noted that ONC is asking what version of FHIR should be used and that he expects to see version specification in ONC’s Final Rule.

Cassel pointed out that version specification is not sufficient, that users must take a further step. “FHIR is, more or less, a transport standard, telling you how to get information from point A to point B. It doesn’t say how to define the payload in terms of the data set,” he said. “FHIR can do semantic, but the user has to specify. He or she has to go into Resources and say ‘Thou shalt use Terminology X.’ You can’t leave it unspecified, for example just saying ‘Send medication.’”

In part 2 of this post, we’ll report on the status of information blocking regulations and how organizations can prepare for broader information sharing, including state and federal regulations and moving away from traditional fax.

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Financial Services Firms: Reap the Benefits of Cloud Fax During the Pandemic and Beyond

Financial Services Firms: Reap the Benefits of Cloud Fax During the Pandemic and Beyond

If the last few months have taught us anything, it’s that businesses can suddenly be forced to make dramatic change to their operations—and that those businesses which are either unprepared for these adjustments or not flexible enough to make them—can suffer significant harm. Working out of a home office or remote on a laptop could make it easier, but what if you need to use the fax machine back at the office?

If your business still uses traditional fax infrastructure—desktop fax machines, on-prem fax servers, dedicated fax lines in your offices—you likely found faxing to be one of the most difficult services to transition to WFH for your staff when the pandemic lockdowns went into effect.


Prepare your faxing infrastructure for any disaster… even a government “stay at home” order

Many of the organizations that contacted us after the first states began issuing stay-at-home orders were financial-services firms: brokerage houses, accounting firms, mortgage lenders, and financial planning companies. These organizations were able to equip their quarantined employees to stay connected to each other and accessible to clients—with online chat, video conferencing, and other digital services.

But such a smooth transition wasn’t possible for their faxing operations. These companies realized they’d have to send employees into the office to retrieve and send important faxes. Nor could they work around this challenge, because faxes represent a significant percentage of their firms’ business communications.

This event forced many in the financial-services industry to migrate their fax infrastructure to modern, digital cloud fax technology. But the good news is this technology migration—which takes almost no time or effort, and requires almost no employee training—is far more than a quick-fix for a company suddenly forced to fax from outside the office.


Streamline your faxing operations and improve your business

Digital cloud fax technology can offer enormous operational benefits for financial-services companies—even after the shutdown orders are lifted. Here are just a few examples.

1. Improve your staff’s productivity and mobility

Cloud faxing lets your employees receive, review, annotate, send, and even electronically sign faxes online—all without ever scanning, printing, or holding a piece of paper, or having to stand over an office fax machine.

Instead, your staff can send and receive faxes via email, from a user-friendly website, or even on a mobile app. And with the right cloud fax platform, all these fax transmissions are highly secure.

2. Improve the client experience

Your clients today demand their service providers to be highly responsive. That is one reason traditional faxing creates such a competitive disadvantage for financial-services firms—it is the one communication protocol that still requires an employee to physically retrieve and process a hardcopy document.

With digital cloud fax technology, your staff will receive alerts by email the moment a new fax comes in, so they can immediately review and respond to it. And this can all happen within a cloud app—wherever your employee happens to be. This will allow your company to promise a higher level of client service, even when it comes to responding to faxes.

3. Enhance your regulatory compliance

One reason for fax technology’s incredible staying power in an otherwise paperless, digital world is that financial regulations, such as SOX and GLBA, treat faxing as a secure means of transmitting clients’ personally identifiable information (PII). Unfortunately, however, the way most financial firms set up their fax infrastructure—with desktop fax machines in common areas of the office—those same regulators can easily find compliance violations in how the company protects the PII data it faxes.

The right digital cloud fax platform can bring your firm’s fax processes up to full compliance with SOX, GLBA, and other data privacy laws. Such a solution will use the most advanced encryption technology for your digitally faxed data, both in transit and while at rest in storage. It will also use only the most secure data centers to protect that PII data forever.

Learn how cloud fax improves financial firms’ regulatory position (PDF)

4. Lower your firm’s faxing costs

Lower costs will be yet another benefit of retiring your on-prem fax infrastructure and replacing it with digital cloud fax technology. By outsourcing your entire fax environment to the cloud, you will be able to immediately eliminate costs such as:

  • Fax machine ink, paper, and toner
  • The costs of maintenance contracts and repair costs for failing fax machines
  • Dedicated fax phone lines
  • Long-distance phone charges you’re probably incurring from some faxes
  • On-prem fax servers and gateway software licenses

You will also be able to redeploy your IT team onto more forward-looking company initiatives because they will no longer need to spend their time responding to paper jams and other fax machine problems.

See how this 29-branch bank lowered its costs with cloud faxing (PDF)


Outsource your firm’s fax infrastructure today

Moving to digital cloud fax technology is a smart move during a lockdown that forces your staff to work from home. But as a longer-term technology decision —to improve your operations, lower your costs, and bring your firm into regulatory compliance—switching to a cloud fax platform is simply brilliant.

Send and receive faxes in minutes.

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ePHI Data Leakage and the 8 Hiding Places You’ve Forgotten

ePHI Data Leakage and the 8 Hiding Places You’ve Forgotten

In the last few years, HIPAA’s regulators and auditors have become more aggressive in finding and penalizing instances in which Covered Entities and their Business Associates fail to protect the electronic protected health information (ePHI) in their care. And chances are, you’ve gotten the message: It is your healthcare organization’s legal responsibility to safeguard at all times the private patient data under your charge.

But even if you have already taken many of the necessary steps to build a HIPAA compliant IT infrastructure, there are almost certainly several vulnerabilities in your organization’s ePHI-security processes, typical digital stops that your ePHI makes along its journey to recipients or to your long-term secure archiving and storage. Most IT teams forget to secure or scrub their ePHI from these hiding places.

Here are 8 of the top ePHI vulnerable spots where even at this very moment your data might be hiding — leaving you open to noncompliance with HIPAA, exposed to cyber criminals, in jeopardy of a reputation-damaging breach, and creating many other ongoing risks to your healthcare practice or organization.

ePHI Data Leakage, and 8 Places You’ve Forgotten to Secure

USB-Stick
Hand insert USB flash drive into laptop computer port

1.  USB Drives

Even for a disciplined and security-conscious healthcare IT team, it’s easy to forget the USB drive and other portable media-storage and transfer devices.

But your staff might be using them for faster and more convenient exchanging of ePHI documents between colleagues or to transfer them more easily from a device in the office to, say, a device at home. For your doctors or administrative staff, this might be completely innocent — just an easier way to work. But as far as HIPAA regulators are concerned, and for the cyber thief who steals the device and all of the data on it, these innocent intentions won’t protect your patients or your organization.

The preferred approach is to not allow files to be transferred to removable media, and systems can be implemented to automatically block such attempts to copy files.  But if your staff is going to use USB drives to share and transfer ePHI, you’ll need to either insist on only company-issued drives — which you’ll equip with encryption software — and require that your employees who do use them delete all of the contents after each use.

doctor

2.  Your Staff’s Texts

Because it’s such a convenient and immediate method of communication, doctors, nurses and other health professionals often use text messaging to communicate with colleagues and patients — and this often means transmitting ePHI in an unsecure way.

There are two problems here. First, under most circumstances texting ePHI is a HIPAA violation.  In fact, according to a 2016 Healthcare IT article, HIPAA’s auditors can fine your organization up to $50,000 for each text containing ePHI.

Second, and equally important, texting ePHI can leave the data exposed to hackers, in several ways. If your staff is texting ePHI over an unsecure network — such as a WiFi hotspot in a public place — hackers can grab the data digitally. Also, what if the doctor texting ePHI with her cell phone loses that phone or has it stolen? Finally, even if your doctor remains extremely careful about how and where she texts, the ePHI data she is sending and receiving over the cellular network still remains in storage on the cellular provider’s own cloud — and there is no way of knowing either that the data is secured on the carrier’s own servers or who at the carrier’s company will be able to see it.

working on laptop

3.  Your Staff’s Email Accounts

Your IT department has probably developed a secure email  system that satisfies HIPAA’s requirements — using secure transmission encryption protocols and other security measures to protect data on your network’s servers, etc.

But remember that your staff probably also sends and receives work-related email, including ePHI, on their personal email accounts— such as web accounts like Gmail and Yahoo! Mail.

Often your doctors or administrative staff will do this for convenience; perhaps they’re in a location where they can’t access their corporate email. Other times they might simply forget which email program they’re using when they send a new message from their smartphone.

Whatever the reason, you should assume your employees are using their personal email accounts, often outside of your network firewall, to send and receive messages containing ePHI. So your IT team’s job here — and it’s a difficult one — will be to implement policies and provide training to steer your staff away from emailing outside the corporate system you’ve developed for work-related messages, particularly messages with ePHI.

And even secure email is only as secure as the system of the person receiving the email.  If the recipient is on a non-secure personal email system, employees should be cautioned not to send email that contains protected information.

4.  The Hard Drives of Your Copiers, Scanners and Fax Machines

When your employees scan, copy or fax physical documents containing ePHI, digital copies of those documents are saved to the hard drives of the copiers, scanners and fax machines. This is an often overlooked security vulnerability because people, even seasoned IT professionals, forget that these standard pieces of office equipment even have hard drives.

But as the healthcare educational company 4MedApproved points out, one health insurance provider was forced to pay a $1.2 million HIPAA fine for returning leased office equipment that still had stored patient records and other ePHI on the devices’ hard drives.

dialing on phone

5.  Your Voice Files

Let’s say a patient leaves a voicemail on your organization’s phone service, or on the smartphone issued to one of your doctors (or even to that doctor’s personal mobile phone). If the patient identifies herself and gives any personal information in that voicemail — almost a certainty in a message left for a medical office or doctor — that is considered ePHI.

Furthermore, let’s say your doctors use handheld dictation systems to record patient details during or immediately after patient appointments. And further imagine that the routine for many of your doctors is simply to keep the tapes of these recordings in an unlocked cabinet or even on an open shelf in their offices. Again, these voice recordings would qualify as ePHI — and need to be protected just as any fax server or network transmission containing patient records.

Your IT team’s task here — again, a difficult one — will be to train all staff on treating these voice recordings as the HIPAA-enforced protected data they are, and to implement processes to secure this ePHI at all times, whether digitally (in the case of patient voicemails) or physically (in the case of your doctors’ own patient recordings on dictation devices).

And it goes without saying that outside medical transcription services must be HIPAA compliant and willing to sign a BAA if they will be transcribing doctors notes that contain personally identifiable information.

doctor checking files

6.  Your Previous Electronic Medical Records System

Here’s a very common scenario in healthcare organizations today — particularly as the Affordable Care Act rules force many medical and dental practices to reconsider the records systems they are using. A doctor’s office decides to switch its Electronic Medical Records (EMR) system from, say, to NexGen.

After training its staff on the NextGen system and migrating its records over the new platform, the company will then often maintain a computer server that contains copies of all of its old records originally generated on its Cerner system. But very few of these companies will also provide adequate security for that old EMR data — even though it is still ePHI, subject to the exact same HIPAA regulations as new patient records.

Here your IT team’s responsibility will be to treat this archived data and the hardware storing it with the same level of care and security as your office’s current ePHI. That means you’ll need to maintain current usernames and passwords for authorized personnel, equip the server (and any transmissions of the data to or from that server) with encryption and other security protocols, and maintain usage logs for any access to the ePHI contained on this old server.

It’s easy to forget this data is even there. But if HIPAA auditors come knocking, you’re just as much at risk of a noncompliance fine from the ePHI stored here as you are from any other type of  violation.

heart monitor

7.  Your Medical Equipment’s Hard Drives

This is often another innocent oversight, but one that still leaves the healthcare organization at risk from both a data breach from cyber attackers and from landing on the wrong side of a HIPAA investigation. The CT scanner, MRI machine, dental x-ray device and other medical equipment in your office also have hard drives — and virtually all of the images and data stored on these hard drives is, by definition, ePHI.

You need to implement a process for encrypting these storage drives and regularly offloading the data to a secure server — whether that’s a cloud storage plan or an on-premises secure server that your IT team manages.

man checking servers

8.  Your ePHI Held by Third-Party Vendors

To function as a healthcare organization today, you almost certainly need to work with third parties, such as an after-hours answering service and a cloud provider to back up and provide disaster recovery services for your data. But these are yet more examples of places where your ePHI is residing, and where they also need protecting at all times.

Any vendor that handles your ePHI should be able to demonstrate that they understand HIPAA’s requirements and their role in securing your ePHI, and that they have developed HIPAA compliant processes to secure your data at all times.


Make Your ePHI Faxes Secure and HIPAA Compliant

As we noted in ePHI vulnerability #4 above, your data is probably residing unsecured on the hard drives of your office’s copiers and fax machines. This is yet one more reason to upgrade your infrastructure from standard desktop fax machines or fax servers to a cloud fax model built specifically for businesses that need to transmit highly sensitive material by fax.

A pioneer in cloud faxing 20 years, eFax Corporate is the world’s leading cloud fax partner for enterprises, and the most trusted provider of digital faxing services to the most heavily regulated industries — including healthcare.

Our HIPAA compliant fax solution employs the most advanced security and encryption protocols available for faxes in transit over the Internet. Additionally, we use the most sophisticated security protocols for a business’s faxes at rest — in storage online after they have been either sent or received. That is why eFax Corporate is the cloud faxing solution preferred by the majority of Fortune 500 corporations.

Send and receive faxes in minutes.

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eFax Corporate’s Secure Cloud Fax Solution Ignites the Workpath Line of Hewlett Packard Multifunction Printers

eFax Corporate’s Secure Cloud Fax Solution Ignites the Workpath Line of Hewlett Packard Multifunction Printers

eFax Corporate is proud to announce the synergistic integration of Secure Cloud Fax with Hewlett Packard’s (HP) Multifunction Printers (MFPs). The partnership allows healthcare organizations the ability to streamline activity and reduce paper-based workflows improving both the quality of care and overall patient experience. With eFax Corporate, HP customers will be able to send faxes with their multifunction device, enabling them to securely transmit and receive patient information at the point of care.

This technological innovation will continue to empower workflow improvements in healthcare, pushing the industry towards achieving its goal of total interoperability. It is especially unique in that the HP Workpath Line of MFPs simplifies document-intensive workflows with customized print and scan solutions, while eFax Corporate’s cloud-based document exchange solution is designed to replace or augment a company’s existing fax solution. Together, this integration will:

  • Drive cost savings: Cloud-based document exchange eliminates the need for standalone, analog fax machines, dedicated phone lines, and maintenance.
  • Improve productivity: The integration allows users to share, distribute, and store documents conveniently online to eliminate paper workflows and improve document delivery.
  • Enhance security and compliance: As a full HIPAA compliant and HITRUST CSF® Certified solution, eFax Corporate helps users comply with federal privacy regulations and protect the privacy of confidential records. 

Not only does the integration of eFax Corporate and HP Multifunction Printers provide healthcare customers with the aforementioned benefits, but it also gives these customers the chance to galvanize care teams and streamline care coordination. The Secure Cloud Fax Solution for the HP Workpath line of MFPs helps these healthcare organizations bring care teams together in a unique, virtual environment that fosters proper communications and allows providers to focus on quality of care. In addition, eFax Corporate’s digital cloud fax technology works with any PC, laptop, or wireless device capable of sending and receiving email – including today’s advanced MFPs from HP.


Transmit and Receive Patient Information Securely at the Point of Care

As a result of COVID-19, many healthcare organizations still have frontline workers focusing on clerical tasks versus delivering the highest quality care possible to their patients. Much of their time is spent printing, scanning, filing, and sending pertinent patient information to and from primary care facilities and providers. This paper-based workflow is not only costly and time-consuming, but also leaves little to no time to consider the proper security measures for transferring this information.

The integration of eFax Corporate with HP’s MFPs helps eliminate this issue and provides customers with three different options to securely send faxes: 

  • Fax from user’s desktop email: Once you scan your document on your MFP and send the scan job to your user’s computer, the user can attach the scanned document to an email addressed to [email protected]. After the email has been sent, the user will receive a fax confirmation by email.
  • Fax from user’s email account via MFP: An employee can log into the MFP, scan their document on the MFP and attach the document to an email addressed to [email protected]. Once complete, the user will receive a fax confirmation receipt by email.
  • Fax from user’s email account with integrated MFP Internet fax feature: An employee can log into the MFP, scan their document directly to fax and enter the destination number without the need to enter the full delivery address. After the fax has been sent, the user will receive a fax confirmation receipt by email.

    *This option does require MFP with support for integrated Internet fax service.

Other secure options include email encryption, eFax Cover page, and redirect receipts.


HP Customers Meet Regulatory Compliance with eFax Corporate 

HITRUST CSF® Certified, eFax Corporate helps organizations like HP comply with healthcare, manufacturing, finance, insurance, education, local government, retail, & commercial industries that have -specific privacy and security rules – including HIPAA, the HITECH Act, PCI and state regulations, as well as streamlining reporting for meaningful use and audit. Receiving the HITRUST CSF Certification demonstrates eFax Corporate’s commitment to ongoing innovation and ensures that our Digital Cloud Fax Technology will continue to comply with privacy and security laws in the delivery of personal health care information as the field continues to grow and change.

Click here to purchase eFax Corporate for Hewlett Packard (HP) Multifunction Printers (MFPs).

Send and receive faxes in minutes.

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