Secure Fax Services and EMR

Posted on December 16, 2010 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the blog network which currently consists of 10 blogs containing over 8000 articles with John having written over 4000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 16 million times. John also manages Healthcare IT Central and Healthcare IT Today, the leading career Health IT job board and blog. John is co-founder of and John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can also be found on Twitter: @techguy and @ehrandhit and LinkedIn.

I’ve tried every way imaginable to get away from having to fax things and as hard as I try, it’s just really hard to replicate the beauty of a simple fax to someone. We could talk about the reasons that faxes are so effective and successful (like everyone has a unique identifier…a phone number), but suffice it say that we’re going to be stuck using faxes for a long time to come. Of course, if you read this and you’re in healthcare then you know the love hate relationship with faxing and how faxing is an essential part of every clinic.

Previously, I’ve talked about the value of a fax server in a clinic that uses an EMR. Many EMR companies are even integrating some sort of fax service into their EMR offering. This is beautiful and any EMR company that doesn’t have this service should remedy it quickly. Doctors just get far too many faxes for it not to be integrated with an EMR.

Well, I was starting to get a fair number of requests to fax things and to get some faxes. I dreaded each request since I didn’t have a dedicated fax line and so I’d have to hook up and re-hook up my fax server all the time. Plus, it was pretty unprofessional for me to tell them to call me so I could hook up the fax. As many of you know, I’ve had SFax as an advertiser on this site for quite a while. So, I asked SFax if I could have free access to their faxing service in return for a post talking about their service. I figured their service had to be better than doing what I was doing. Turns out it was 100 times better than I could have even imagined.

Sfax Review
I’m not sure why, but I had the impression that Sfax would be some website where I just uploaded a file and then I could fax it out that way (which they do have). However, one of the coolest features of SFax was their Sfax Driver. It essentially creates a printer on your computer much like a fax server creates. When you print to it, the dialog for sending a secure fax comes up and you’re able to easily fax anything that you can print.

I also wasn’t sure exactly how they’d handle the fax number. Much to my surprise, they assigned me a unique toll free (877) phone number to receive all my faxes. Most doctors office faxes are local, but for me it’s pretty nice to have a toll free number that people can use for my fax number. Obviously, in a clinic you could just forward your existing number to the toll free number and actively promote your new number for a time period. Then, after an appropriate period you can phase out the old number and save the cost of the extra line or re-purpose the line for something else.

It was kind of funny, because the Sfax support people had been reaching out to me to be sure I got the customer service that I needed to be able to use their product. I found their Sfax printer and online product so simple to use that I just emailed them back and said I didn’t need their help. Basically I’d be wasting my time talking to them because their secure faxing was so easy to use.

I will mention that I was pointed to some videos and tutorials that stepped through the process as well. I actually watched one or two of the videos and kind of laughed because the process was so simple it almost felt like the video wasn’t needed. Although, I’m sure some people will enjoy the hand holding.

The receiving a fax was a great user experience too. I got an email notifying me that the fax had arrived. Plus, the online portal gave me access to the entire history of faxes that I’d sent and received. Pretty sweet.

My only real complaints about the product was that at first some of the terminology was confusing. Sfax driver doesn’t intuitively tell me that it’s going to set up a local printer on my computer that I can use to fax out. I also wish they had a quick way to send a fax to a new phone number. Maybe there is and I just missed it, but it seemed like you needed the phone number in your “Contacts” list in order to send the fax out. Sure, a contacts list is a great feature since you often send something to the same place. However, there’s always those one off faxes where you don’t want that phone number in your contact list. You just want it for that fax.

I won’t cover all the other standard benefits of electronic faxing (ie. no printing, no scanning, no creating cover letters, etc etc etc). Suffice it to say that Sfax had those benefits as well. They also had a bunch of features like Starred Faxes, Forwarding Faxes, and Draft Faxes. I’m not exactly sure how I’d use a Starred Fax (It’s like the Starred feature in Gmail if you’ve used that), but forwarding a fax is a great idea and I’ve used Draft Fax a few times when I needed to go and get more info before sending the fax.

I also love that their online portal can be accessed from any computer I’m using. So, I can access all my faxes in one place and can even send a fax from any computer in the world. Pretty sweet.

EMR Faxing Integration
I wouldn’t be EMR and HIPAA if I didn’t talk about the possible integration of the Sfax secure faxing technology with an EMR. Sfax offers three ways to fax: Sfax Driver (Desktop), Sfax Online (Web) & Sfax API (Integrations). Of course, the API integration piece is the most interesting when it comes to EMR.

Sfax actually has provided a white label fax solution for 7 different EMR vendors and 6 other healthcare solution providers with 8-10 other healthcare software company integrations in the works. So, you might even be using Sfax and not even know it. I can’t say which companies for obvious reasons, but I can see this type of EMR integration working really well. They even mentioned some clever integrations with adding/reading barcodes and automating handling.

Here’s their comments on their faxing API:
We have great API documentation, sample code, test harness (and test account) and have had integrators faxing out from their app in 2 hours! Our delivery rates are industry leading along with error reporting through API. When the integration is done right, the document exchange(fax) part is just beautifully fitted into the natural workflow.

If I was an EMR vendor and didn’t have an integrated faxing service yet, I’d be on the phone to Sfax to talk about leveraging their API so I could worry about other EMR features.

Digital Signatures
Sfax offers a built in set of features for digital signatures. I had a lot of questions about digital signatures and adoption of digital signatures in healthcare and so I’ve asked Sfax to do a future guest post on the topic. So, watch for that.

Fax Security
All of the Sfax online faxing portal uses https 128 bit encryption. Yes, that’s the level of encryption that’s used by the best SaaS based EMR software and all the other e-Commerce sites you might use online. Turns out my first fax was filled with my social security number and other personal info. So, this level of encryption was absolutely necessary for me. Plus, is a requirement for HIPAA if you plan on faxing any PHI.

Secure Fax Pricing
You can check out all the Sfax details including plans and pricing on their web page. They just launched a $24/year plan for people like me that do a pretty low volume of faxing. Then, they have monthly plans from $15/month to $199/month depending on the number of fax pages per month, toll free numbers, API access needs, importing contacts, tailored cover pages, etc. You can also sign up for a 14 day free trial to test it out yourself.

I honestly wasn’t sure how well Sfax had done at taking the headache out of faxing. Turns out, now I don’t blink an eye when someone asks me if they can fax me something or if I can fax them something. It’s as easy as sending an email now. I just fax away.

Needless to say it’s a lot cheaper and easier to use Sfax than a $10+ per month extra phone line, a $50+ fax machine. Not to mention the paper, tonor and desk space the fax machine requires.