Is it 1970 or 2019? 9 in 10 in healthcare industry still using fax machines, survey finds

Doctor on phone/fax
Healthcare organizations are still relying on pagers, fax machines and landline phones, a new survey found. (Getty/IPGGutenbergUKLtd)

When it comes to communication, it looks like the healthcare industry got stuck in a time warp.

A new survey finds that healthcare organizations are still heavily reliant on 1970s technology, with 89% using fax machines and 39% using pagers. And despite living in a mobile-reliant society, healthcare organizations rely heavily on landline phones to communicate, according to a new report by TigerConnect, a healthcare communication platform.

“Adoption of modern communication solutions has occurred in every other industry but healthcare,” said Brad Brooks, CEO and co-founder of TigerConnect, in a statement.

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The report was based on an online survey conducted in July of almost 200 respondents who work in the healthcare industry, including physicians, nurses and ancillary providers, C-suite executives, information technology professionals, administrative staff and others.

The survey confirms the broken state of communication in healthcare, finding 52% of healthcare organizations experience communication disconnects that impact patients on a daily basis or multiple times a week, the company said.

A separate survey of patients found they are also taking notice.

Nearly three-quarters of U.S. adults (74%) who spent time in a hospital in the past two years said they were frustrated by one or more inefficient processes during their stay. The survey of just over 2,000 U.S. adults was done by the Harris Poll on behalf of TigerConnect in August. Of those surveyed, 870 spent time in a hospital in the past two years because they or an immediate family member had been admitted and stayed at least one night.

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When asked about their top frustrations with their stay, 31% cited slow discharge and transfer times, followed by limited time with their doctor during the visit (22%) and long waiting room time (22%).  

Patients’ preferred method of communication didn’t match what healthcare organizations are actually using. Some 51% of healthcare organizations use patient portals to communicate with patients, yet only 20% of patients prefer that method, according to the survey. Patients who reported using patient portals as a top method of communication were 29% less likely to rate their communication as effective or very effective compared to those using text or short message service to communicate, said TigerConnect, which provides secure messaging. 

The survey demonstrated the fragmented state of communication in healthcare, with healthcare professionals often all using different tools to communicate and with the adoption of more modern communication technology often happening in silos, TigerConnect said.

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The survey showed lapses in care are more common when organizations do not use secure messaging organization-wide, with a 50% greater likelihood of daily communication disconnects that impact patients. The reason for not adopting secure messaging to communicate? Some 69% of organizations cited budgetary constraints.

Some 40% of healthcare professionals reported it is difficult to communicate with care team members, contributing to bottlenecks at various points as patients move through the healthcare system, the report said. The biggest problems are a delay in moving patients through the system including: delayed discharge (50%), followed by consult delays (40%) and emergency department wait times (38%).

Despite a growing mobile workforce in healthcare, landline telephones are the top choice of communication when secure messaging is not available, used 29% of the time. And even among organizations using secure messaging it still ranks number two—used 25% of the time.  

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Clinical staff report the biggest problem and were nearly three times more likely than non-clinical staff to say communication disconnects impact patients on a daily basis.  

“Despite the fact that quality healthcare is vital to the well-being and functioning of a society, the shocking lack of communication innovation comes at a steep price, resulting in chronic delays, increased operational costs that are often passed down to the public, preventable medical errors, physician burnout, and in the worst cases, can even lead to death,” said Brooks.

In fact, one study showed that communication inefficiencies cost a single 500-bed hospital more than $4 million annually and a separate study found that in the worst case, they can lead to death, with communication breakdowns estimated to be a factor in 70% of medical error deaths.

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