Today, very few organizations rely on printed fax machines — instead, if they use a fax service at all, they’ve generally moved to an online faxing solution.
With an online fax solution, your organization can use a hosted, cloud-based service to send and receive faxes over your IP address. Online fax services can provide a higher level of convenience than using traditional fax machines, without the need to maintain hardware and replace cartridges, paper, and toner.
But if you’re in a healthcare-related industry, it’s also crucial to ensure that your online fax service meets HIPAA compliance guidelines.
The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) sets strict security measures for healthcare providers and other organizations that handle patient medical records and other sensitive data, known as “covered entities.” If a covered entity either deliberately or accidentally fails to protect sensitive information, whether in the form of paper records, electronic protected health information (ePHI), or other forms of communication, you may be liable for a HIPAA violation.
If your communication protocols fail to meet HIPAA guidelines for electronic protected health information (ePHI), your organization could be subject to fines, your executives may face criminal penalties, and your patients could be left vulnerable to data breaches of confidential health and personal data. Even if the penalties are relatively small, this type of privacy violation can have a chilling effect on your organization’s reputation, and discourage patients from choosing you as a provider.
In this article, let’s take a look at why it’s a good time to move from a traditional fax service to an online fax provider, and how you can ensure that you’re meeting HIPAA compliant fax protocols when you make the transition.
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Why use an online fax solution?
First, why use a fax machine at all?
While faxes have been obsolete in most industries since the late 1990s or early 2000s, the healthcare industry still relies heavily on fax machines to send and receive medical records between different offices. While many clinics have digitized their own data and can easily share electronic records within their own practice, they often can’t send or receive protected health information with other providers through the same system.
In this case, they’ll use a fax service to share patient medical records and other ePHI between different offices.
However, when using traditional fax machines, they’re likely to encounter a number of problems, including:
- Connection failures
Communication errors are a common problem when using a traditional fax machine, and a transmission may fail to send if your fax machine isn’t able to synchronize with the sender or receiver’s fax number. You may receive a communication error message, and may need to troubleshoot your machine to ensure that you’re able to transmit data between the two providers.
- Bad printouts
In cases where a fax does go through, it’s still not always going to be useful to the recipient. That’s because printed faxes often end up with faded or blurred ink, which can be due to problems with the ink cartridge or with the fax machine itself. Or, a page may print only a portion of the required data, leaving vital ePHI missing from your records. Analog fax machines require frequent maintenance, including the purchase of new paper, toner, and cartridges on a regular basis. If your team isn’t ensuring that the fax machine is performing at top capacity, you’re likely going to see performance problems when you try to print patient records.
- Misdirected faxes
What if you mistype a fax number for your recipient? In most cases, this might simply be grounds for embarrassment — but in the healthcare industry, it can have real-world consequences. Sending protected health information to a party that’s not authorized to receive it is grounds for a HIPAA violation, and your practice may face resulting fines and penalties, or even a lawsuit from the patient.
- Lack of security
Even if your fax does end up going to the right number, the data being sent isn’t encrypted and doesn’t require authentication, which means that a third-party can easily intercept and access the data during the transmission process without your knowledge if they have access to the phone line. And even if the transmission does go through to the other party, there’s no way for you to verify that the specific individual you name in the fax cover sheet will be the one to receive the document. Once the fax is transmitted, it’s out of your hands, leaving you open to potential liability and HIPAA compliance violations.
- Hardware vulnerabilities
Fax machines can also be used as a backdoor way for hackers to access your entire network, because they are connected to your entire IT system. Because the fax technology is much older than modern IT solutions, fax machines don’t have any protective firewalls or safeguards to block network access — meaning that if you’re still using an analog fax machine, you could be leaving the door open to hackers who are after your practice’s protected health information and other important data.
- Cost of upkeep
Analog fax machines rely on expenses including paper, toner, and cartridges, a dedicated fax number, and the fax machine itself. Fax machine expenses add up annually to an average of around $720 per year — not counting the productivity losses of your employees as they take the time to set up faxes, send them, troubleshoot the machine, and track down missing fax documents.
Overall, it’s clear that the analog fax machine should go the way of the dodo bird. But what should you replace it with?
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Choosing a HIPAA-compliant fax solution
Today, most organizations that use faxes to communicate rely on digital fax services. These services work on desktop logins or mobile apps, and enable your staff members to upload a PDF of a document which can be distributed to another party’s fax machine or digital fax service. They typically offer a range of pricing options, with some offering one-off fees to send or receive a fax, and others offering a fixed number of faxes for a set monthly or annual fee.
Making the transition to a digital fax solution (or efax service) is a no brainer — especially in the healthcare industry, where a HIPAA compliant fax service is essential to your operations.
When choosing a HIPAA-compliant fax solution for your healthcare practice, think about these considerations.
- A secure cloud-based solution
Your efax solution should encrypt all of your data, so that medical records and other sensitive data are not accessible without authentication. Your fax provider should include other security measures, such as password protection and two-factor authentication, to ensure that your faxed documents are securely stored in your online account.
- Designed with HIPAA compliance in mind
There are many digital fax services on the market, but not all of them are designed with the healthcare industry in mind. Choosing a cloud-based service that was created with HIPAA compliance in mind will ensure that the solution remains current on industry best practices for HIPAA compliance, including secure storage of all fax documents for a smooth audit trail if needed.
- Simple monthly or annual pricing
Rather than choosing a solution that asks you to pay on a per-fax basis, your practice will likely save a lot of money by using a subscription-based efax service, where you’ll pay a simple monthly or annual fee to send and receive unlimited faxes. When assessing your options, consider how many faxes you typically send and receive each year to pick a package that makes sense for your needs.
- Accessible across multiple devices
When choosing a digital fax solution, it’s important to choose a tool that works seamlessly across any of the platforms you might use, including desktop or, tablet. You should be able to upload PDFs that you can send as faxes, and download faxes from other health care providers and industry partners, with all fax documents stored and archived in a searchable online database that you can access across any of your devices. Choose a user-friendly efax solution that optimizes its user interface based on the device you’re using.
- Integrates with your other communication channels
While you could choose a standalone digital fax solution, you’ll be able to simplify your communications across all of your channels by choosing a solution that lets you share encrypted, HIPAA-compliant patient information across other communication channels you frequently use as well, including mobile phone and SMS messaging. By choosing an all-in-one communications app that includes efax capabilities, you’ll be able to customize your communication channel based on your patients’ or colleagues’ unique needs or preferences, knowing that whichever method you choose, you’ll be maintaining security of your patient records at a standard that meets HIPAA compliance.
- Healthcare focus company
Rather than choosing any fax provider, you need to know that you can trust your protected health information to a HIPAA compliant fax solution that’s already proven its value to other healthcare practitioners. When evaluating potential vendors, look at your candidates’ case studies and testimonials from other healthcare providers, and even consider asking to speak with a current customer or two. Make sure that your provider understands the requirements of HIPAA compliance, and pay attention to the protocols they use to safeguard sensitive data. After all, by making the wrong choice, your practice may end up liable for fines or violations, so it’s important to carefully vet any technology provider that may be dealing with your patients’ sensitive information.
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Why choose iPlum?
When you’re seeking out a cloud fax service that includes security standards that meet HIPAA compliance requirements, consider an all-in-one healthcare communication app like iPlum.
iPlum solution offers a variety of technical safeguards and functionality that enable healthcare providers and other covered entities to safely meet HIPAA compliance requirements.
iPlum offers a HIPAA-compliant efax solution, enabling you to upload a PDF to send as a faxed document to another provider that will be encrypted to prevent unauthorized access. You’ll be able to securely store all of your received efax documents in a digital storage locker.
The solution also provides you with a virtual second phone line, so that you can create a custom caller ID and phone number for business-related calls, without needing to deal with the hassle of carrying around a second phone. Rather than connecting over VOIP, which can lead to poor connections and dropped calls, the system works over your own cell voice plan, ensuring that you will be able to securely and clearly communicate with your patients and fellow providers.
iPlum also provides the ability to participate in HIPAA-compliant SMS messaging, with security features including dedicated storage and encryption. In the event that your phone is lost or stolen, you can remotely lock the app by enabling a PIN. And, if your organization is audited or involved in a lawsuit, you’ll be able to easily compartmentalize and share all of the data stored within your iPlum SMS messaging platform without sharing any of your personal data.
iPlum can also be installed on your tablet computer or desktop, ensuring that no matter where you are and how you communicate with your patients and fellow providers, you’ll be able to maintain the security standards that HIPAA requires.
If you haven’t yet made the transition from analog fax machines to a cloud fax service, it’s the right time to make the upgrade. By choosing a secure, cloud-based fax solution like iPlum that includes a menu of other HIPAA-compliant communication options, you can rest assured that you’ll be free of liability, no matter how or when you choose to communicate with patients and fellow providers.
Interested in learning more about iPlum? Check out our efax solution page to see if it’s the right fit for you.