Fax machines live on as healthcare providers balk at sharing patient data

Newswire: Oct. 30, 2017.

Dateline: Washington.

Despite a $30 billion push by the Obama administration to digitize medical health records, the fax machine remains the dominant role of communication in American health care.

That’s the premise of an in-depth feature on Vox.com accounting for the disconnect in health record policy and the ability to share health records.

“Hospital and doctor offices generally remain unable to transfer electronic information to other hospitals and doctor offices,” says Vox. “Billions of dollars later, they are left printing out documents and faxing them. And so the fax machine remains medicine’s dominant method of communication.”

When implemented, the assumption was that health systems would volunteer to share patient data. Obama administration officials behind the push now admit that was too optimistic.

“Those institutions consider that data proprietary and an important business asset,” said David Blumenthal, the Obama administration’s healthy policy coordinator. “We should never have expected it to occur naturally, that these organizations would readily adopt information exchange.”

The Obama administration’s push for healthcare providers to begin sharing electronic health records, included in the financial stimulus bill of 2009, didn’t mandate that they actually do so, only that they develop a means for doing so. Healthcare providers are as protective of their client lists as any other business would be, and in a competitive environment, they are naturally disincentivized from sharing data that would encourage patients to seek treatment elsewhere, or be siphoned off by those who provide it.

Hence the continued existence of the fax machine. By keeping records immediately inaccessible to other providers, it requires that the information be prepared in physical form, scanned and sent to someone demanding it.

Donald Rucker, who directs the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology, said the present state of affairs hinders patients and consumers and limits their options in choosing a plan of care.

“All of the thousands of regulations that have piled on have the net effect of preventing us as individuals from controlling our data, from shopping for care, or having vaguely cost-effective care to shop for,” Rucker said.

Read the full story here.

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