CMS: Providers Should Get Rid of Fax Machines by 2020

Federal health officials announced their goal this week to eliminate fax machines from physician offices by 2020.

In a speech Monday at the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology’s (ONC’s) Interoperability Forum, held in Washington, DC, Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) Administrator Seema Verma said that healthcare is stuck in a 1990s time warp and noted that it’s possible to keep patient data secure while sharing it with them. In order to reach the goal of making physician offices fax machine-free by 2020, Verma challenged developers to build consumer-friendly applications connecting Medicare beneficiaries to their claims data, Healthcare Finance reported.

As part of a larger strategy to encourage interoperable systems, Verma said that providers will experience reimbursement reductions if they don’t provide patients with electronic access to their health information. In March, Verma unveiled a CMS interoperability plan called MyHealthEData at a HIMSS conference, where she touted a plan to completely overhaul meaningful use.

Earlier this year, Vox published a story detailing the many reasons fax machines are still the norm in physician offices. The primary reason is that lack of interoperability forces providers to still rely on print means of communicating lab results, office visit notes, and other records.

According to the Vox article, former ONC head Farzad Mostashari, MD, says that the government should mandate the elimination of fax machines.

“I think if we want to kill the fax, we need to schedule a funeral,” Mostashari said. “I think you need a pull and you also need a push.”

But this is not a stance that the current ONC Administrator, Don Rucker, MD, agrees with. Rucker favors a strategy emphasizing better-designed electronic health records.

Mary Butler is the associate editor at Journal of AHIMA.

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