Skip to content

Just The Fax, Ma’am…

hipaa compliant healthcare communicationsGuest Blog Post By: Phil Liberty, Universal The Communications Company

The healthcare industry is doing its level best to keep fax machine manufacturers in business. Because fax machines are considered to be HIPAA compliant, it’s easy to keep them humming along. Paying for expensive toner, electricity and the telephone line attached to the wall behind the machine is just the way we’ve always done it. But that telephone line should give you enough reason to consider your options.

AT&T built and owns the copper telephone network that provides the analog signal required for T1 lines, traditional telephones, fax machines, credit card machines, postage meters, alarms and elevators. That service is known as POTS – Plain Old Telephone Service. Maintaining that antiquated network is costly and inefficient for AT&T so they will retire POTS in the near future. All services will eventually run over fiber optic cables and your equipment may have to change to keep up. You may have received a letter telling you about this transition but probably ignored it or did not even open it thinking it was a solicitation. So, how does AT&T get your attention if you won’t read their letter? Check your phone bill!

Rates for copper telephone lines have gone through the roof. A telephone line will cost $100 per month or more going forward. Multiply that times the number of devices and that should get your attention! We recently saw an AT&T bill for a single line that was $500 per month! As they say, “Don’t be that guy.”

You may feel safe since AT&T is not the carrier who bills you for telephone service. No matter who bills you, if the service rides on copper telephone wire you are using the AT&T network. Your bill went up or is about to. Who reads the first page of their phone bill each month? That’s where the phone company writes to tell you about changes to your service. It’s worth a read these days if you have POTS.

What can, or what must, you do? Number one, take inventory. Identify all of your phone numbers and who bills you for the service. Fax machines are easy to identify. Just call your cell phone from the fax to discover the number. But alarms, elevators and modem lines are tougher to find. You may want to bring in your phone vendor to tone them out.

Now that you know you’re telephone numbers and what they are attached to, look at the alternatives. The companies which provide your services are aware of this change. If not, consider another provider! Call your alarm company and ask them about replacing the phone lines with a cellular based alarm service. That may mean both fire and burglar alarms. Same with the elevator, credit card and postage meter. Call them and ask what they recommend for this transformation of the phone network. Credit cards can be processed over the Internet as long as you maintain PCI compliance. Again, your vendor can help with this. Which brings us to the fax machines.

Fax-to-email is a well established technology which saves money on the phone line, electricity, paper and toner. A potential benefit of electronic fax is the ability to easily save a fax directly to your EMR rather than print, scan and attach. For healthcare providers, a fax-to-email service must be chosen carefully. Not all electronic fax services are HIPAA compliant but today there are more compliant choices than ever. Who is responsible for your HIPAA compliance, you or the efax provider? You are. Do your homework and ask around the industry. HIPAA compliant electronic fax is typically more expensive than non HIPAA compliant services.

Is it worth a potential HIPAA violation to use a less expensive service to send non PHI faxes? Can you be sure your employee will always choose the correct fax method when handling PHI? Recent news reports indicate the potential to expose PHI is not worth the small savings. Save the money on phone lines, not by using a non-compliant fax service.

To read the official AT&T policy on the retirement of POTS.