Fax vs. Scan: What’s Right for Your Emergency Department?

Posted on July 21, 2020
Tags: Hospital

You can check your email on your phone, see who is at your front door from your work, and monitor your city’s traffic in real time via satellite imagery. But within the halls of your emergency department, there’s one non-digital tool that remains a tried and true staple in communication: the trustworthy fax machine.

That very specific sound associated with fax coming through is a constant in many of today’s EDs. And even while other digital technologies are utilized in a wide range of care procedures, it’s hard to beat the fax machine’s reliability and simplicity in transferring data from pre-hospital care providers to your ED.

But where seconds count, and paper documentation can mean lost or incomplete records, more and more EDs are making the switch to a digital transfer of patient records – or electronic health records (EHR). Many are moving to the use of a barcode scanner in the ambulance to send patient information directly to the ED.

So, what’s the best option for your hospital emergency department?

The Workhorse: Fax

There are many reasons why the fax machine remains a tried and true communication tool of the ED. A standard business device since the 1970s, the simplicity, and the wide-acceptance of the fax machine keep them chirping away in hospitals around the nation.

  • Fax is Commonly Used
    It’s estimated that 75% of all hospital communications are transmitted through fax, and the ED is a hub of printouts. This means that wherever you’ve worked or will work, the likelihood that a fax machine is in use is pretty high. This conventional technology leaves one less new tool to learn and is a somewhat standard process among your peers.
  • Fax Maintains Workflow
    Almost everyone knows how to use a fax machine within the hospital. While pages may be missing or the machine gets jammed, faxing is just part of the routine when it comes to working in the ED. Straightforward with a small learning curve, you simply type in the number, press send, and wait.
  • Faxing is Getting Smarter
    Newer fax services send faxes digitally through the Cloud, which adds another layer of security. This also takes away the frustration of misplacing printed items or only receiving half the pages in a record. You can keep that same workflow, with the improvement of being able to retrieve the actual data online.

The Benefits of Barcode Scanning

As healthcare providers are looking for ways to remove barriers of communication between the field and the hospital, new tools like the barcode scanner are gaining popularity. EMS providers simply scan the patients’ information in the bus, it is instantly added to his or her EHR.

  • Barcode Scanning Saves Time
    Back at the hospital, we all know the feeling of waiting around the fax machine for pages to arrive when you need information. When seconds matter and you’re needing to alert and mobilize your team, it feels like you’ve gone back in time to the age of dial-up. When EMS uses a barcode scanner to add the EMS run sheet into the EHR, it’s fast and complete. A quick click of the scanner, and you’re set.
  • Directly Integrates into your EHR
    No more scanning EMS data from fax or uploading from a scanned email. Barcode scanning allows you to import the information digitally into your EHR directly, and it should be compatible across most industry-standard EHRs, including Epic, Cerner, and Allscripts.
  • Fully Auditable “Paper” Trail
    When the EMS record syncs digitally, you can be sure that all of the data stays together. You won’t have to worry about blank or missing pages from a patient care record, chasing down a page that misprinted, or having to store bulky paper files in a cabinet. It’s one less thing to worry about when you need to focus on the full picture of your patient’s care.

A Smoother Care Spectrum

Hospitals are increasingly looking for ways to improve the working relationship with their EMS agencies, and better communication is a critical element in these endeavors. Patient care begins long before he or she arrives at the ED door, and improving that handshake means ED providers can move more quickly to an effective treatment plan.

Additionally, EMS agencies can benefit from more communication back from the hospital. Today’s leading hospital software tools, like ESO Health Data Exchange (HDE), help close the loop again with EMS after a patient is transported. Numerous digital features in HDE – including a barcode scanning feature – securely transmit data from the EMS ePCR to the hospital EHR, all in real-time.

After transport, EMS can automatically see more about the patient’s treatment plan, outcomes, and things they correctly assessed or may have missed. This real-world insight provides an excellent learning tool, as well as data for QA/QI.

Moving Forward

There pros/cons to both fax machines and bar scanners, but many hospitals are embracing new technology, especially in their emergency departments where every minute matters, and every data point can help shape a treatment plan for a patient. Communication will always play a vital role in positive patient outcomes and having more insight into precisely what is going on within an ED – and how to improve patient care and efficiencies continually.


Read the white paper, Enabling Faster EMS Turnaround and Improved Patient Handoff, now.