December 9, 2023
What the POTS shutdown will mean for faxing in the healthcare industry

After a remarkable 100-year run, the FCC is officially closing the door on traditional analog copper POTS (Plain Old Telephone Service), the standard telephone infrastructure we’ve all used forever.

For businesses in virtually every industry, the old-fashioned copper wires have been the default communication protocol not only for phone usage but for other services such as analog fax lines and—for healthcare providers and payers, on-premise paper fax machines.

But holding on to the traditional copper wires that make up the foundation of this aging infrastructure could cause major disruptions to your healthcare organization’s workflows in the ever-evolving health IT landscape, and now is the time to act.

The Order

The FCC has issued Order 10-72A1, which mandates that all POTS Lines in the USA be replaced with an alternative service by August 2, 2022. (Read the latest updates from the FCC.

Whether your telecom carrier completes its shutdown of your organization’s POTS phone/fax service by that date or soon after, you need to move quickly to find alternative solutions for your organization’s vital daily communications.

The Effect on Interoperability

The world we live in continues to push forward in the realm of interoperability – a world where different systems or software can share digital information through the cloud. Imagine being able to exchange important patient information (electronic health records, referrals, prior authorizations and prescription orders) securely and efficiently, via digital cloud fax technology instead of transmitting information precariously through the copper wire running down the side of your street. And imagine these cloud fax transmissions improving your organization’s compliance with HIPAA, CMS, and other health related regulatory groups and oversight commissions.

Many hospitals and physician practices have already made the transition from on-premise paper fax machines to digital cloud faxing – but those organizations are outnumbered by those still relying on paper fax. Now is the time to make the transition – before the cloud faxing providers raise their prices to meet demand created by changing government regulations.

Traditional wired systems are being actively replaced by data-driven and wireless cloud services, which are becoming main solutions for communication as the healthcare industry moves forward with more modern, flexible communications environments. But the transition to next-generation technology has been slow, even with carriers encouraging and incentivizing customers to make the switch to cloud-based digital communications.

Today, there are more than 36 million active POTS lines being used to support businesses and healthcare organizations in the United States. Many health providers lean heavily on these lines for needs revolving around their in-house fax machines – particularly in industries such as healthcare IT, which has been careful and deliberate in adopting new technologies.

Unfortunately, relying on analog telephony for their fax needs means these organizations spend too much time scanning, uploading, faxing, and filing – the never-ending cycle of the paper-based workflow. In addition to time-consuming clerical work, these in-house fax machines require constant updates – both physical and systematic – which require manual labor and a hefty payment.

Additionally analog fax lines tied to traditional fax machines now represent a serious vulnerability to the healthcare industries’ ongoing business operations — because when organizations migrate to Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) for phone service, they won’t find a seamless transition from their VoIP provider for their faxing infrastructure.

The Cost

Not only is there the issue of communication between POTS and technologically advanced systems, but there is a critical issue around cost. The cost alone to service healthcare organizations with a POTS-based infrastructure is continuing to skyrocket as the price of copper coupled with their aging networks upkeep are simply too high to maintain. Telecom carriers dealing with this increased cost are passing it on to their customers, incentivizing those customers to convert to less-expensive, next-generation technology. 

While most document-reliant organizations are understandably hesitant to make the switch — the healthcare industry has historically preferred to wait before upgrading to new technology — it’s important to keep in mind that the benefits far outweigh any risks or roadblocks that might arise. And with the impending POTS shutdown, you’ll need to choose between two options when deciding to make your move. You can stick with your current provider, or find a new provider specifically suited to fit your migration needs — including the need to implement and maintain digital fax capability to securely transmit vital patient history documents and electronic health records from peripheral facilities such as clinics, and physicians’ practices to the point of care.

The Impact to the Healthcare Industry

We’ll assume that your organization has already retired most of your telephone landlines and copper wires—and that you’ve upgraded to a more mobile and flexible technology, such as VoIP, for your phone calls.

But if you’re like the many healthcare organizations we hear from on a regular basis, you are still relying on the POTS network to transmit your company’s faxes. You might not even realize it. But yes, your faxes still traverse the old-fashioned phone network even if you’re using on-prem fax servers or a hybrid solution that handles some of your faxing in the cloud and lets you manage the rest onsite.

The reality is, almost every type of fax solution out there still uses the legacy telephone infrastructure to some degree. And considering that healthcare organizations like yours depend on faxing for your important daily workflows, the last thing you want is to discover only after the POTS shutdown that your faxing capability has suddenly been disrupted and you need to quickly find a new way to send and receive secure, digital cloud faxes.

Businesses in every industry—not just healthcare—will soon be affected by this important change to the global communications infrastructure