Imagine hearing that fax machines were the state-of-the-art technology that was going to change the way the world communicated. Imagine experiencing all the hype about these new machines – and actually getting excited yourself. It is hard to believe this happened – especially since the idea of a fax machine in 2021 seems a bit, well, archaic. That is, of course, until you walk into your doctor’s office.
Fax machines have been around for years. What started as a telegraph machine in the second half of the 19th century grew to be a crucial part of business in the late 20th century. Fax machines are still alive and well today in many offices around the globe. Though many have moved on to more digital, automated methods of sharing forms and documents, the healthcare industry cannot seem to let go.
So, will the fax machine be a permanent fixture in medical offices in the future? Will they ever be able to let it go? Maybe, maybe not. But, either way, there is a new technology that needs to be embraced.
Why Fax Machines Work
In the healthcare field, there are a lot of people that handle a lot of different things – from the office staff to specialists, hospitals, pharmacies, and more. For example, when a patient is sent to another office to see a specialist or a hospital is trying to send over results from a patient’s ER visit, there is a lot of communication involved. When one of the healthcare providers tries to send over, say, an electronic health record to the other provider who uses a different system, it is not going to work.
The result? The records didn’t get sent. There is confusion and frustration amongst everyone involved – the office staff, the healthcare provider, and the patient. What’s more, is that this can cause a lapse in patient care. It seems like it is easier and more straightforward to just fax the information over.
Life Before Fax Machines: Drop Out Forms
Drop Out Forms were forms that were pre-printed in a special ink, usually red or blue, and contain a scanned image like graphics, logos, form field lines, etc. They would be filled out with black ink and, when used with a compatible scanner, the pre-printed red or blue text would disappear and you would only see the black, pertinent information. In areas where the newly filled in data overlapped the pre-printed ink, the information would be formed as accurately as possible. Though in order for this to work, everyone needed one of these compatible scanners – and many had them.
The idea behind Drop Out Forms was that by removing the pre-printed form, there would be nothing to get in the way of optical character recognition (OCR) and further automation.
And then the fax machine took over. It transferred info quickly, but it kept the form and brought even more issues.
Pros and Cons of Fax Machines
We can’t deny the fact that fax machines have been a helpful tool for the healthcare world. With everyone having them in their office, they can easily send authorizations, claim forms, medical reviews, reimbursements, and more. And, faxing is much more secure than, say, sending this information via email.
A few additional advantages of using fax machines include:
- Incredible reliability. You just fax to a number and it works. No intricate parts involved in the process.
- Very easy to use. There is no special training to use fax machines.
- Great convenience. Everyone has a fax machine. Sharing fax numbers usually involve less confusion or errors than, for example, sharing email addresses.
- They are not subject to viruses. You do not have to worry about a hacker wiping out your data.
Regardless of their convenience and secure platform, fax machines do have some shortcomings – primarily when it comes to image quality. For example, scaling issues make the form look as if it were shrunk down, only fitting a portion of the page. Shifting happens when the edges of the image are unable to be seen due to slight shifting as it scans. And, finally, fax machines have a lot of background noise that makes it difficult for the OCR process to work. With so much going on it cannot extract the necessary field data.
The Future: Virtual Drop Out
Thanks to Parascript, a leader in the IDP industry, a new type of technology has been created to solve the fax problem. It is called Virtual Drop Out. Here’s how it works.
With the help of thousands of real-world fax examples, deeply trained neural networks learn what a claim looks like and are able to differentiate between what is the form structure and what is the added data. They are also able to determine a high-quality image from the noisy, scaled-down, and shifted images that are so common from fax machines.
The deep learning algorithms begin analyzing all of the differences between a good form and a bad form. And it works to identify ways to correct each type of problem. Believe it or not, there are over 100 different image quality issues.
When it is time to get to work, the algorithms begin making corrections, aligning poor faxes, recalibrating the size and orientation of the forms, and then erasing the form structure altogether. This leaves behind nothing but the details that you need to know – and increases OCR accuracy.
Many in the healthcare industry will tell you that life would be much simpler if every office was equipped with the same software program, standardizing it. Unfortunately, the likelihood of that actually happening doesn’t look too good. Not only is it tough to get the millions in the field to agree on one particular software system, but the task alone seems daunting and probably slow moving.
Virtual Drop Out is the future of healthcare communication. You don’t need to standardize everyone’s software, but rather learn to make yours more efficient while still using the same trusty fax machines that everyone else is using. After all, if you can’t figure out how to replace something that seems to work, you may as well be proactive and find ways to make it work for you. Doing so will lead you into a powerful future built on the latest technology.
Parascript is dedicated to transforming the future by finding ways to introduce automation where it doesn’t exist. With its new technology, Virtual Drop-Out, faxes can be adjusted for all the image quality issues it has so that OCR can automatically extract the necessary data and remove the rest. To learn more, visit www.parascript.com.