Part One: The Fax Machine

The XYZ department in a large healthcare organization faced a challenge in serving its patients and the medical team providing patient care. Within the department, the staff often needed additional medical information about patients, information that could only be provided by the patients’ physicians.

The staff’s solution (in 2014!) was to request its own dedicated fax number and machine. This way, the staff at physicians’ offices could be asked to fax over patient information.

The use of fax machines to send patient information from one office is a business practice that remains surprisingly common. Faxing patient information is compliant with the requirements of the HealthCare Information Portability and Privacy Act (HIPPA).

Ordinary email cannot is neither secure nor private, so ordinary email cannot be used to send patient information from one office to another.

Thus fax machines, even in the United States, even in 2015, remain as an important technological tool in patient care.

A staff member of The XYZ Department accessed the organization’s Intranet and submitted a job ticket to the IT Department. In just weeks, a new telephone line wiring was pulled to the requested office location, a phone number was assigned as the fax number, a fax machine was installed, test faxes were sent successfully and the staff was trained on how to use the fax machine.

The department immediately succeeded in having physicians’ office staff fax them the desired information. The IT Department closed the “ticket” and added the project – completed as requested and on time – to its list of successful projects.

But was this project successful?

Here are some indicators that the project was a success.

People. The right people were chosen to execute the project. There were no errors in running the phone wiring, assigning a number, making the phone line live, installing the fax and training the staff. The project was completed promptly, the result exactly what was expected.

A solid plan was in place and the project management was effective.

The resources needed were available and reasonable in cost and no catastrophic changes occurred.

The internal stakeholders (the staff in the department) immediately used the fax machine and the external stakeholders (the staff in physicians’ offices) were successfully engaged. Faxes were immediately sent and received.

No governance issues arose.

Communication, at the simplest level, was effective – the internal stakeholders got what they asked for and they were able to communicate effectively with the external stakeholders to get them to use the technology – the fax machine – to send patient information.

Importantly, no change management was required. The use of the fax machine did not represent a transition to a new system, a new way of doing things. Even in 2014, staff members in physician offices, and all kinds of other people working in healthcare, routinely use fax machines as they have for decades now.

Therefore, this IT project seems to be a success then, right?

That’s right, until some additional facts are revealed.

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About Dave

Dave Tedlock is the head of NetOutcomes, a digital marketing firm. For years he has written a marketing and technology column for various publications, including the Tucson Citizen’s Tucson Business Edge, Idaho Business Review, Inside Tucson Business, and The New Mexico Business Weekly. Tedlock taught writing and business communication for eight years in many universities, including the Harvard Business School and Iowa State University. For 13 years he worked in ad agencies as a copywriter, account manager or creative director. Tedlock has published short stories, scholarly articles and a writing textbook (with Paul Jarvie). He earned a Master’s degree in Fiction Writing from Brown University. He lives in Tucson and Santa Fe.

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