By: John McFadden

A Long-Standing Industry

I started working on the fax industry in 1998. At that time, now over 20 years ago, my incumbent employers were stumped by my decision to work for a fax company. They couldn’t understand what that even meant, let alone how there was any future in it. Something to the effect of “Sure, that’ll last” was uttered by one of my then managers. This in 1998, when email began to take hold as the prominent means of business communication and information was rapidly moving online. It was early morning in the internet age and fax was looking outdated.

And yet…

Shifting Markets and Continuing Growth 

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The fax business was booming! We’ve come to associate faxing with the healthcare industry, but at this time it was finance that dominated the fax market. All manner of financial notifications, confirmations and orders were processed via fax and stories of massive rolls of fax paper printing into the night were common for large financial institutions. Fax was mission critical and a priority technology for IT in the financial community.

As the internet grew in scope and influence, the flow of faxing changed. While many financial documents are still exchanged via fax, IP-based technology slowly supplanted fax as a means to exchange financial data. Hefty, detailed financial records could now be accessed via portals and secure mail and financial fax volume flattened.

And yet…

Further Fueled by Email

The fax business continued to grow! Buoyed by the very technology that came to eradicate it, Internet-based “cloud” faxing became a fixture and many fax-dependent organizations began to move away from paper-based devices and on-premise fax servers to specialists who managed their faxing for them. Faxing became paperless, deviceless and more secure. This push to the cloud paralleled the growing needs of the industry that continues to dominate faxing in the present: Healthcare.

One oft-cited figure suggests that fax accounts for 75% of medical communication in the US. When you consider that healthcare spending is roughly 18% of the US Gross Domestic Product, the magnitude of faxing in healthcare is startling.  Billions of healthcare documents are exchanged every year via fax, but the continued use of faxing in healthcare is controversial. Though still considered secure and HIPAA compliant, fax is “image oriented” and often requires manual review and processing to transfer data into Electronic Health Record (EHR) systems, which form the information backbone of healthcare organizations.  Opponents of fax look to EHR vendors to provide the interoperability necessary to integrate disparate healthcare systems. This is hampered by a reluctance on the part of EHR providers to interconnect with competing EHR systems and a reluctance on the part of healthcare providers to expose patient records, a highly valuable business asset, to competing healthcare systems. Faxing remains entrenched as the most direct and “open” way to exchange patient information, despite limitations in data integration.

And yet…

Still more to come: Going beyond Cloud Fax

Technology is bridging the gap between fax documents and the EHR systems that are used to manage patient data. Optical Character Recognition (OCR) makes it possible to mine fax documents for patient-oriented data. Concord’s NEXTSTEP platform was designed to extract meaningful information from healthcare related fax documents and make that data available for integration with EMR systems. NEXTSTEP was created to manage unstructured documents specifically, meaning the NEXTSTEP Capture service can extract data from disparate document types and formats, originating from varying sources, without need for document specific training and mapping.

20 years in the fax business, and this is something new! OCR has also been around for a while as well, but typically requires a set form, and very deliberate training to capture data from specific areas on the document. Taking a document that’s never been seen before and extracting explicit data is possible now only through advances in AI, Machine Learning and Natural Language Processing. By applying these newer technologies to fax documents, NEXTSTEP is updating fax processing for a new age. This is good news for an industry like healthcare that relies so heavily on fax to transfer information. Liberating the data contained in fax documents makes processing documents more efficient, more accurate and much more closely integrated with healthcare EMR systems and patient-driven processes. As fax continues to be the standard for exchanging healthcare data, NEXTSTEP and Intelligent Data Extraction allow healthcare organizations to make the most of faxing.

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