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1981 is calling…it wants its fax machine back.

I’ve been playing a lot of padel in Miami lately (it’s all the rage). I’m also inching my way towards old age. I suspect that’s one of the reasons I developed a bad case of tennis elbow.

My doc decided I should get an MRI to play it safe. After calling a local imaging center (of course there was no online appointment functionality) I showed up to the clinic to get my procedure.

Upon completing the procedure, the front-desk staff asked if I wanted a copy of my MRI, and handed me… a CD.

Like, a compact disc. The thing onto which I used to burn 12 tracks of Dave Matthews Band to get girls to notice me in elementary school. The thing that modern laptop producers don’t even bother building a drive for anymore. How the heck was I going to get this thing to Dropbox?

And the scary thing? Compact Disks are arguably more advanced than another technology healthcare orgs are forced to reckon with daily…

…the fax machine.

While the pundits have been predicting the demise of a technology made popular around the same time my family got our first VCR (which is also the year my parents let me watch Gremlins on a family vacation and I stopped sleeping for months), fax machines don’t seem to be going anywhere. A 2021 study found that the fax services market is actually projected to grow-! There are a lot of reasons for the staying power of the fax in healthcare. Interoperability is still an aspirational buzz word, HIPAA makes using other less secure means (like email) hard, and perverse incentives exist that sometimes make the fax machine cheaper to use (I’m looking at you, @Surescripts).

At Hummingbird, we’re taking a comprehensive view of “access”. This includes looking at all the processes that make healthcare work for patients. Access is not just about the tools we use to make appointments; it’s about looking at the entirety of the experience through the lens of both the patients and caregivers.

Healthcare providers want to make it easy for outside parties to communicate with them, and it just so happens that publishing a universally accepted 10-digit fax number is a great way to do that. Unfortunately, this convenience comes at the expense of the massive amount of manual intervention needed to sort through millions of pages of paper (not to mention the related delays in care).

The latest crop of AI however is pretty good at making sense of human readable data. All of a sudden with the right prompt, robots can make sense of text and with that context, make pretty good recommendations about what to do next. It turns out all we needed was state-of-the-art near-sentient Artificial Intelligence to begin thinking about how to live more productively with technology that hasn’t been state of the art since the Nixon administration.

If we’re going to make access better, we need to tackle all sorts of overlooked problems. From augmenting the fax machine, better equipping our call centers, installing modern CRMs, enabling texting, and physician inbound messaging overload, our system only gets better when we solve real problems.

As for the CD-ROM, let’s keep it where it belongs…in a 1996 Aurora Oldsmobile playing Nickelback’s first LP.

Photo Credit: Padel Pro UAE