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AWR Cloud Review & Rating

Advanced Web Ranking (AWR) says its main focus with AWR Cloud is to combine an easy to use interface with the best rank tracking capabilities on the market. Once you dig into this $49 per month search engine optimization (SEO) tool, however, you’ll find it also covers ad hoc keywords search, ongoing position monitoring, and website crawling. It also has some brand recognition features that let it see which sites rank, which are doing well, and which are losing ground. All in all this is a capable tool for brand-focused SEO professionals. While it’s not quite as full featured as our other Editors’ Choice picks in this category, Moz Pro and SpyFu, its easy interface and respectable set of capabilities make it a great pick for smaller businesses and well deserving of the Editors’ Choice designation.

On the rank tracking front, AWR Cloud has the best automated monitoring of the tools we tested. The platform’s search engine and website comparisons and rankings across websites and keywords will keep your business up to date on every upswing and down-slide in content and landing page search rankings on a particular keyword or topic. It covers ad hoc keyword research and targeting through Google Analytics (GA) and Google Search Console integrations.

AWR Cloud - Websites Dashboard

Pricing and Plans

AWR Cloud begins at $49 per month for its Starter plan, which the company markets at small to midsize business (SMB) website owners. This plan gives you 2,000 keywords per week, but AWR Cloud doesn’t otherwise cap users in terms of reports, tracked websites, users, social media tracking, or auditing and crawling. This lack of quotas on users, tracked sites or projects, and reports is atypical of the tools I tested and makes AWR Cloud a more affordable option compared with other do-it-all SEO platforms such as SEMrush and Ahrefs that charge for more quotas and add-ons. There is also a free 30-day trial on all plans. The rest of AWR Cloud’s pricing tiers are as follows:

  • Pro plan: $99 per month, marketed at “in-house SEO professionals,” with 7,000 keywords per week.
  • Agency plan: $199 per month, with 14,500 keywords per week, and includes application programming interface (API) access.
  • Enterprise plan: $499 per month, with 35,500 keywords per week plus API access.

Best-in-Class Search Position Monitoring

AWR Coud is the least complicated and most strightforward SEO tool I tested. The UI is clean and built around a responsive dashboard and streamlined left-hand navigation bar with a home icon atop it. There are clearly labeled tabs: Rankings, Links, Google, Reports, Social, Crawling, and Settings. For the SEO novice, it’s a far easier UI to navigate than the more convoluted layouts of platforms such as Majestic which on top of an antiquated design also inundates you with an overwhelming array of disparate tools. AWR Cloud packages its SEO features into one simple layout similar to a narrower tool like DeepCrawl, but with functionality closer to what the Editors’ Choices offer.

When you first log in, the main Websites dashboard gives you at-a-glance position monitoring right away. This sortable list of all the websites you’re currently monitoring shows each website with any associated keywords for which you’re tracking search rank, along with a small trending graph, overall visibility percentage of your site across search results, and bright green and red Changes metrics showing your cumulative gain and loss in keyword rankings. Before you dig down into specific sites and keywords, AWR Cloud’s search position scoreboard gets straight to the point.

AWR Cloud - Rankings Distribution

For each website and collection of associated keywords your business is monitoring, you can then drill down into a deeper breakdown along with a number of associated ranking tools. In the Overview section of my PCMag test website, AWR Cloud gave me a host of metrics and rankings stats right away. I saw that my site had a visibility percentage of 77 percent across the keywords I’m tracking and various search engines, the “ranked value” or how many times the site has appeared in Google Search Engine Results Pages (SERP), along with how many keywords have moved up or down in rankings over a given time period. In the interactive line graph below the headlining stats, I was able to toggle the time period to anywhere from a week to six months.

Below that are a number of rankings distributions, showing the percentages of my website’s tracked keywords holding the top spot in search results, top three, top five, top 10, and top 20. Below that I found several interactive pie charts breaking down those SERP rankings and page distributions even further, along with how many of my keywords were ranking as opposed to not ranking. For each metric you always see a plus/minus showing change over your given time period and a button to view a full visibility or rankings report. You also can see explanations of how AWR Cloud calculates each score and metric when you hover over a stat. Despite throwing a ton of information at you on every page, AWR Cloud always remains an extremely user-friendly experience.

Recently AWR Cloud added some new functionality related to the SERP rankings. For example, the SERP Features visibility screen provides a view of all the sites in your project and track the progress of each feature over time. In addition, AWR Cloud added a new SERP features drop-down filter for evaluating how SERP features look based on the keywords you target. In addition, new mobile-specific tracking features let you see what content gets exposure in mobile based on how you search.

Another ranking feature AWR Cloud provides is a Search Engine Comparison showing website visibility and keyword rakings compared across Bing, Google, and Yahoo search engines. There is also a Website Comparison engine allowing me to plug in another website and chart specific rankings on my tracked keywords in line graph and list format. There’s also a straight-up Website Comparison allowing me to add multiple sites and compare standing on a particular one of my keywords on a specific search engine with a button on the top right to generate a Quick Report on that data at any time.

AWR Cloud - Search Engine Comparison

There’s also a fair bit of keyword management associated with AWR Cloud’s rank tracking, which employs a human search emulation mechanism and geo-located proxy servers to deliver results similar to what you find in a browser. Tabbing over to the Keywords overview or scrolling down to the Keyword Rankings tab, I was able to view ranking breakdowns of specific keywords across the same custom parameters I could set with different search engines and tracked websites. The Keyword Rankings gave me plus/minus ranking changes for each keyword in addition to traditional metrics like cost-per-click (CPC), average monthly search volume, and a low or high “competition” score pulled from Google AdWords. While the competition score is a rather general and paltry substitute for the 1-100 keyword difficulty score found in our Editors’ Choices and keyword research tools like, I was given the option to integrate my Google Search Console account to pull in more granular data.

Plenty of the tools I tested offer some level of automated position monitoring, including Searchmetrics, SEMrush, and our other Editors’ Choices, Moz Pro and SpyFu. None offered nearly the depth of rank tracking, search position comparison, or overall position monitoring vectors I found in AWR Cloud. It wasn’t even particularly close. This is the no-brainer tool to see how your target keywords are performing.

Keywords, Crawling, and Link Tracking

Rank tracking metrics are baked into AWR Cloud throughout, but the platform also offers a capable array of functionality in keyword research, link tracking, and crawling plus a few standout bells and whistles. The catch with much of this functionality is that AWR Cloud prompts you to connect your GA and Google Search Console (formerly Google Webmaster Tools) accounts to access much of it, but every business should be checking Google’s free SEO tool regularly anyhow. Going straight to the source, be it in GA, Search Console, or Google AdWords, is the most effective way to double-check the often conflicting numbers you may see from different SEO tools on the same metric (though Google has plenty of its own accuracy snafus, a fact regular GA users know well).

AWR Cloud--Keyword Ranking and Management

When it came to keyword research and management, I found AWR Cloud had surprisingly powerful keyword grouping and categorization. At any point, I had the ability to click into a keyword’s options and create a new group for it or add to an existing group along with the ability to color-code keywords and groups. Once I connected GA and Search Console, I was able to pull those groups into reports and data visualizations mapped to Google’s internal metrics. This isn’t the tool I’d recommend for identifying target keywords as it doesn’t have much in the way of related keyword suggestions or deeper landing page alignment (as do, our other Editors’ Choice tools, etc.), but once you integrate the Google services it’s a usable feature.

The Reports tab is also lacking in built-in analysis. You can customize report templates and AWR Cloud lists all reports clearly in the tab, but the only option from there is to download or email the report in CSV, HTML, PDF, or XLS. Reports are one of the tool’s current weaknesses but, according to the company, a new version of AWR Cloud scheduled for release in the fall of 2018 will come with major changes to the UI and features, particularly around a a brand new and much simpler reporting system allowing users to design and personalize reports in greater depth.

On the link tracking and crawling front, I was able to use the Website Auditor tool in the Crawling tab to run a quick domain scan on and find some site and server errors and SEO warnings such as duplicate content or images missing “alt tags” that are currently hampering SEO value on specific pages. The crawl was nowhere near as extensive or comprehensive as that of DeepCrawl, or other crawlers like Ahrefs or Majestic, but it was quick and effective at effectively giving me a “Cliff Notes” crawl of major surface-level issues. Same goes for the Links section, which populated a pretty barebones report of back-linked domains and landing pages, pulling session and pageview data from GA. It’s not nearly the backlink analysis and profiling you’ll find in Majestic or LinkResearchTools but it’s enough to get by.

AWR Cloud--Website Auditor

There are also a couple bonus features in AWR Cloud that set the platform apart. For one, it’s among the few SEO tools I teste that incorporates social data into keyword metrics. It’s pretty basic—the Social tab tracks shares of your site content incorporating target keywords across Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+, and Pinterest—but Moz Pro and SEMrush are the only others pulling in the key factor of how social virality can affect SEO performance.

More uniquely, it’s the only tool in this roundup with a dedicated feature for carrying out a key basic SEO function: keeping track of the changes Google makes to its search algorithm. Every tweak Google makes can affect your SEO strategy, and AWR Cloud has an option within its Google tab dubbed Algorithm Changes that monitors just that. Not only does it provide a changelog with descriptions of each update and a link to relevant blog and news coverage, but there’s also an interactive line graph charting Google algorithm changes with your website’s site visits, ranking changes, and visibility percentage. It’s an invaluable feature that eliminates manual legwork for your business and helps AWR Cloud stand apart in the SEO tooling landscape.

AWR Cloud--Website Auditor

A User-Friendly SEO Command Center

The most effective SEO strategy incorporates a complementary set of tools covering all your bases. Ultimately, you want a clear business workflow that identifies target keyword opportunities, crawls and optimizes your site to rank well on those pages, and then proactively monitors those rankings to keep you on top. AWR Cloud is an Editors’ Choice because it does that third part better than any other tool I tested in this roundup.

Editors’ Choices Moz Pro and SpyFu are comprehensive platforms with deeper functionality and SEO recommendation features across all three areas, hence why AWR Cloud’s score is slightly lower. Nonetheless, AWR Cloud sports best-in-class position monitoring that lives up to its Advanced Web Ranking acronym, plus enough keyword and crawling functionality to get by if your business is looking for a single platform that’s affordable and easy to use. Not to mention it’s also the only dedicated platform I tested that tracks Google algorithm changes, and is actively updating the platform with forthcoming improvements to its reporting. As a capable standalone platform or a killer ranking tracking tool in your SEO arsenal, AWR Cloud is an Editors’ Choice.

AWR Cloud--Google Algorithm Changes

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How to Back Up Android Photos and Videos to the Cloud

How to back up your photos

Your photos and videos are precious memories, and you don’t want to lose them. Here are four mostly-free services you can use to automatically backup your photos and videos and access them from anywhere.

If you’re like most people, your phone is your primary camera. As such, it contains highlights of your life or your children’s lives, and you don’t want to lose those memories. If your phone gets lost, stolen, or broken, all of your photos and videos may go with it. But there are a few services out there, most of which are free, where you can safely store your photos and videos in the cloud. One of the best parts about cloud storage is you can pull up those photos or easily share them from anywhere.

Google Photos

Google Photos is one of the best and easiest ways to keep your Android photos safe. Most devices get unlimited storage of photos and videos, with a small caveat: your photos and videos will be saved at a “high resolution,” instead of the original resolution. Google uses machine learning to decrease the size of these photos and videos while still retaining a high level of detail and clarity—most users won’t even notice the difference. The one exception here is for Pixel phones (minus the 3a), which get free, unlimited storage at the original resolution.

If you don’t have a Pixel phone and aren’t happy with the “high quality” option, Google allows you to store photos and videos at their original quality using the available storage space on your Google Drive account. The free plan offers 15 GB, which seems like a lot, but if you’re a shutterbug, you could suck up that space quickly. You can, however, purchase more Drive storage.

Aside from the benefit of offering free, unlimited storage, Google Photos also comes with an Assistant that can help you get more out of your photos. It can automatically suggest filters for your photos—but note the original photo is not affected. It can show you memories like “On this day two years ago” kinds of stuff. Plus, Google Photos allow you to search for faces it recognizes are close to you (if you don’t find that too creepy). It can also search for places or things like “New York” or “statues.”

Google Assistant can offer some helpful options.  Google Assistant can offer some helpful options.

Your phone should have Google Photos pre-installed, but if not, you can download the app from the Google Play store. Open the app, and you’ll be asked to sign in to your Google account. By default, it will use the main Google account on the phone. You’ll also see the upload and storage settings. By default, it uses the “High quality” option (again, save for Pixel phones, which get unlimited storage at the original quality) and will use Wi-Fi data only. To change those settings, tap “Change Settings.”

Tap "Change Settings."

Select the options you want and tap the back arrow in the upper left corner.

Tap the back arrow.

Tap “Confirm.”


That’s it! Your phone will start uploading any photos on your device automatically and in the background. In the future, if you make a new on-device folder (e.g., Instagram, screenshots, etc.), you’ll be prompted to upload those photos as well. Going forward, any time you log into Google Photos on any phone, or at, you’ll see all of your photos.


OneDrive is Microsoft’s personal cloud storage space, and it can automatically upload and store your photos for you as well. Unlike Google Photos, OneDrive doesn’t offer free photo storage, so anything you upload counts against your quota. Search functionality in the app is pretty limited, though the service allows you to tag photos, which can help with organization if you’re so inclined. On the plus side, for $9.99 per month, the 1TB plan comes bundled with Office 365 which gives you access to the Microsoft Suite of Office software–Word, Excel, Powerpoint, etc. That’s a pretty solid deal.

Different features offered with OneDrive

To get started, download the OneDrive app and tap “Sign In.”

Tap "Sign in"

Log in with your Microsoft account.

Enter your Microsoft email address. Enter password

Assuming this is the first time you’ve opened the app, right after you sign in, you’ll be asked to upload your photos. Tap “Start Camera Upload.” Then tap “Allow” on the permission screen that opens.

Tap "Start Camera Upload" 

If you have logged in previously, but aren’t using the photo backup feature, starting that process is also very easy. Open the app and tap the “Photos” button at the bottom. Then, tap “Turn On” at the top of that screen.

Tap the "Photos" button.  Tap "Turn On."

Confirm you want to backup your photos to OneDrive. Then confirm again, to ease Microsoft’s insecurity.

Click "Confirm."  Click "Confirm."

And you’re done! Your photos will sync to OneDrive > Pictures > Camera Roll automatically and in the background, do you don’t even have to think about it. The easiest way to see them is by tapping the “Photos” button in the app.

Tap the "Photos" button.

If you want to adjust photo sync settings in the app, tap the “Me” button in the bottom left corner of the app. Then tap “Settings.”

Click the "Me" button. Click Settings

Then tap “Camera Upload.”

Click Settings

Adjust the settings, and you’re good to go.


Dropbox is one of the oldest names in cloud storage, for a good reason—it’s quite fast and easy to use. When you first download the app, log in with your account. On the next screen, tap “Allow.”

Siogn in with your Google Account or other email address. Click "Allow."

During setup, Dropbox will offer to back up photos. Tap “Backup Photos.” (Yes, it should read “back up” instead of “backup,” but what can you do?) Then tap “Allow” in the permissions box that opens.

Tap "Backup Photos." Tap "Allow."

If you’re already a Dropbox user and want to start using it to back up photos, tap the hamburger button in the upper left corner. Then tap “Photos.”

Tap the hamburger button. Click "Photos."

At the top, tap the button that reads “Turn on Camera Uploads.”

Tap "Turn on Camera Uploads."

If your device is on Wi-Fi and the battery is not low, Dropbox will automatically start syncing your photos.

To adjust sync settings, tap the Hamburger Button > Settings.

Tap the hamburger button. Tap "Settings."

Tap “Camera Uploads.”

Tap "Camera Upload."

That’s all there is to that. Dropbox doesn’t offer any free storage for photos, so anything you upload will count against your quota. You get a meager 2 GB for free, after which you’ll need to shell out the money for one of the paid tiers.

Amazon Prime

This is an oft-overlooked option that really shouldn’t be. If you’re an Amazon Prime subscriber, Amazon offers unlimited photo storage and 5 GB of video storage to all Prime Members. Non-prime members get 5 GB of photos and videos combined. Even better, the unlimited storage includes full resolution photos, not the “high quality” photos that Google touts. But there are caveats here too: you’ll have to deal with ads, offers, and promotions. Nothing in life is free, indeed.

Amazon also comes package with ads to sell you things. Amazon will try to send you a ton of notifications if you let them.

To get started with Amazon Photos, download the app. When you first open it, you’ll need to sign in (or create an account). If you already use another Amazon app, you’ll just need to confirm your account—tap “Continue.”

Tap "Continue."

On the next screen, tap “OK.” Then accept the permission to allow Amazon Photos to access your device’s media by tapping “Allow.”

Tap "Ok." Tap "Allow."

Right away, you’ll be able to configure options such as automatic backups (which is enabled by default) and allowing uploads while using mobile data. Tap “Done,” and your photos will start to sync.

Tap "Done."

To adjust settings in the app, tap “More” in the bottom right corner. Scroll down and tap “Settings.”

Tap "More." Tap "settings."

One setting we recommend turning on is “Image Recognition.” This allows Amazon Photos to search for people, places, and things, making the search function much more useful. This setting is off by default, so to turn it on, tap “Image Recognition,” and then slide the toggle to “On.”

Switch the toggle to on.


Overall, we highly recommend photo and video backup. You just never know what might happen to your phone, and it would be a shame to lose all those memories. Plus, if you ever switch phones, this makes photo transfer a breeze. If you are not using one of these solutions, we recommend you start today, if not sooner.

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The New Hybrid Cloud for IT

Hybrid cloud is having an undeniably positive impact on IT’s ability to deliver performance to the business. Now it’s time for organizations to use hybrid cloud resources to improve IT services delivery, according to an IDC whitepaper.

While IT is a key element in successful operations of organizations in the digital world, business objectives drive more investments in new projects and initiatives. According to IDC’s CloudView Survey, the majority of IT’s most important initiatives are oriented toward business, not IT.

However, IT strategies are an integral part of all initiatives, whether they are focused on IT or business objectives. As such, enablement of hybrid cloud is not limited to the IT side of organizations but rather becomes a part of the broader cloud experience spreading across multiple functions within the organization.

Business and IT needs are defined by myriad of factors including but not limited to its specialization and business model, mix of workloads, financial health, maturity, composition of the workforce, and profile of customer base. These needs shape an organization’s choice when it comes to electing where to run its workloads and defining a right combination of on-premises and off-premises resources.

What should be common for all organizations choosing the cloud path is the fact that private cloud remains a central point of a hybrid strategy, in either a datacenter or hosted environment.

The New Hybrid Cloud for IT

Hybrid cloud reflects an approach to workload design, deployment, and delivery that allows organizations to get more effective use out of their compute and data assets, as well as the open source ecosystems available for cloud-native development.

To fully utilize the potential of a hybrid cloud strategy, organizations need to adopt a hybrid cloud platform that incorporates support for existing and emerging operating environments and enables seamless connection of resources across multiple cloud types.

Today, many cloud service and IT solution providers like HPE are building and delivering a new set of hybrid cloud services and solutions that help organizations deliver a flexible and open cloud experience at the speed businesses demand.

Hybrid cloud solutions also take advantage of advanced multicloud management software and services to maintain visibility, control, and compliance across all clouds and for all hybrid workloads. Three characteristics are at the heart of these new hybrid cloud platforms:

  1. Software defined, workload optimized, and composable: Built on a software-defined and composable infrastructure that aggregates compute, storage, and networking resources into shared resource pools available for on-demand allocation; includes an orchestration layer; and supports integrated functions for self-discovery, workload provisioning, infrastructure analytics, and self-healing

       2. Open and hybrid by design: Leverages a highly standardized cloud software             platform that supports instance, container, and serverless operating                     environments; is tightly linked to one or more public cloud platforms; and is easy to link to a hybrid cloud management solution

  1. Easily consumable: Delivery via an easy to configure, order, deploy, maintain, upgrade and, ultimately, replace solution that can be consumed via subscription or pay-as-you-use models

Discover the multiple benefits of using hybrid cloud solutions by clicking here. You can also read the full IDC whitepaper here.

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The ONLYOFFICE Suite Offers Collaboration, Cloud Storage, and Choice

At one time, when you needed to write a document, edit a spreadsheet, or create a presentation, you had to use Microsoft Office. Fortunately, there are some great alternatives now available.

ONLYOFFICE is an open source cloud-based productivity suite. It offers a range of tools that can replace many Google G-Suite and Microsoft Office 365 features while providing greater security, collaboration, and choice.

ONLYOFFICE’s Collaboration Features

In any modern business, collaboration is critical. Real-time editing and knowledge-sharing throughout the company helps information flow. Ultimately, this leads to more informed decision-making. ONLYOFFICE aims to help you collaborate effectively, with as little difficulty as possible.

ONLYOFFICE Documents webpage

The web-based office suite allows you to create Microsoft Office-compatible documents, spreadsheets, and presentations. The applications will feel familiar, as they take cues from modern software design and resemble other software packages.

This means there’s no steep learning curve for your users. Plus, there are editor apps for Android and iOS, allowing everyone to stay productive while on the go.

ONLYOFFICE Collaboration tab

A specific Collaboration tab at the top of the document, sheet, and presentation editor gives you easy access to some of the most useful collaborative and sharing tools. Users can share documents with others, provide co-editing access, and add comments, all from one interface. Version History lets you keep an eye on any changes made; its a built-in chat function opens up discussions while keeping any talk focused on the task at hand.

The ONLYOFFICE cloud also includes a collaboration platform, which is a package of additional productivity modules. A document management platform, mail server, calendar, CRM software, and project management tools sit alongside its Community software. Community is a company-wide blog, wiki, and instant messaging platform that allows your users to keep up-to-date with the latest goings-on.

ONLYOFFICE Software Editions

Summary of ONLYOFFICE editions.

When selecting a new software package, you certainly want a hassle-free experience. In this case, you’ll be happy to learn that ONLYOFFICE is available as Software as a Service (SaaS). If you choose this model, the software is licensed to your business, but hosted by ONLYOFFICE and accessible via any web browser.

The company then takes care of updates and security patches, so you don’t have to worry about it. An additional feature of ONLYOFFICE’s SaaS offering is the inclusion of cloud storage for each registered user. This includes tiered pricing based on the number of users and required storage space. Pricing starts at $2 per user per month.

However, you may decide that the SaaS option isn’t right for your business. In this case, the ONLYOFFICE Enterprise Edition may be precisely what you’re after. The Enterprise Edition gives your users the same web-based experience, while keeping the data on your servers. Unlike the SaaS offering, this edition is available for a one-time fixed cost per server. Three separate license options are available based on the number of users and simultaneous editing sessions.

One of the biggest challenges of adopting a new piece of software is managing how it integrates into the rest of your workflow. Many businesses already host their data and applications on cloud services like Nextcloud, ownCloud, Alfresco, Confluence, or SharePoint. The ONLYOFFICE Integration Edition allows you to incorporate ONLYOFFICE’s editors into your existing deployments.

The Right Office Software for Your Business

ONLYOFFICE shows that it cares about your security from the moment you sign up. Many sites either don’t offer Two-Factor Authentication (2FA), or only include it as an optional feature buried in the settings.

That’s not the case with ONLYOFFICE. As part of the registration, you are required to enter a phone number to enable SMS-based 2FA. In addition, ONLYOFFICE is fully GDPR compliant.

Not only does ONLYOFFICE compete with offerings from Google and Microsoft, but in many cases, it bests them. For instance, a unique advantage of ONLYOFFICE is that its desktop office suite can encrypt documents end-to-end using blockchain technology. All these features make it a great alternative office product.

Whether you want a standalone local installation or a cloud-based SaaS package, ONLYOFFICE brings collaboration, choice, and security with its office productivity suite.

Explore more about: Business Technology, Microsoft Office Alternative, Office Suites.

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Cloud Fax Provides Interoperable Solutions for Healthcare EHRs Today

Don’t wait for 2020!

Health care providers are in a 1990’s time warp…where doctors are faxing patient records, medical staff are manually entering results into EHRs, and hospitals are handing out data on a CD-ROM.

Those words were spoken recently by Seema Verma, Administrator of the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), lamenting the awkward state of healthcare IT in the United States at an interoperability conference in the nation’s capital. 

Verma, who is arguably the most influential public health official in government today, admits that we have come a long way since 2008, when adoption of health IT was limited to 17% of doctors and 9% of hospitals. Today, 78% of doctors and 96% of hospitals use certified health IT, including electronic health records systems (EHRs) to manage at least some of their patients’ data.

But that big push to get doctors to use Electronic Health Records came at an even bigger cost than the $35 billion of tax payer money spent on the effort. 

…the new technology is making their work more difficult, not less – causing more physician burden and burnout. Because of it, doctors today are still recording their notes on paper, and they are still faxing patient records, Verma asserted.

Help us make every doctor’s office in America a paperless fax free zone by 2020, she asked the developers in the audience. 

But the continued presence of paper-based records is merely a symptom of an underlying problem, which is the lack of interoperability between the various vendor’s EHRs.  Because those electronic systems do not interoperate, medical administrators are having to print out 100-page medical records and manually fax them to send an order or referral or submit a claim for payment. 

And the problems go much deeper than the need for paper faxes.  The lack of interoperability between systems limits healthcare providers’ ability to exchange information about patients that could lead to better decisions being made. Having to start from scratch with each new patient leads to unnecessary or duplicative testing, which increases hospital costs and reduces efficiency.

‘Promoting Interoperability Programs’ Replaces ‘Meaningful Use’

That is why CMS this week issued a new set of regulations aimed at promoting interoperability among EHRs beginning in 2019. Under the new Final Rule for Promoting Interoperability Program (formerly known as the Medicare and Medicaid Electronic Health Record Incentive Programs), CMS is making interoperability priority-one in order to facilitate data sharing among providers and access to medical records by patients.

The underlying aim of the original EHR Incentives Program was to provide incentive payments to health professionals and hospitals that demonstrate meaningful adoption, implementation, upgrading, or meaningful use of health technology. However, in the rush to digitize health records in response to the incentives and penalties imposed by Meaningful Use, lack of interoperability between the various EHR vendors, along with other shortcomings, led to less than optimal outcomes for clinicians and patients alike.

The demand for interoperable data platforms has been long coming.  As healthcare providers began shifting their records to these new electronic platforms in the early 2000s, the well-respected nonprofit Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) defined the meaning of “interoperability” in the context of a health information system.

HIMSS wanted to ensure that different health information systems (EHRs) would be able to talk to each other, exchange patient data seamlessly, and present that data in a way that would make it easily understood and actionable for the recipient.

To address these and other challenges, the Office for the National Coordinator (ONC) for Health Information Technology, an office within the US Department of Health and Human Services (HSS), issued a 10-year roadmap to nationwide interoperability (including the use of APIs), by 2024. The following year Congress passed the 21st Century Cures Act of 2016 (Cures Act), which required the HHS and the ONC to improve the interoperability of health information.

Most recently, at the HIMSS18 Global Conference & Exhibition, CMS Administrator Seema Verma unveiled CMS’s plans for a complete overhaul of the Meaningful Use program, which would be replaced Promoting Interoperability (PI) programs.  Key goals of the aptly named programs include an increased focus on EHR interoperability and improving patient access to health information.

Fax fixes the interoperability problem—for now

In the meantime, given that the industry is still years away from a universal standard for healthcare information exchange, hospitals, doctors’ offices, insurance providers, pharmacies, and other healthcare organizations need to share information quickly. The solution has been to stick with an aging and inefficient analog technology:  fax machines.

The reality for most healthcare providers is that the lowest common denominator of communication is the venerable fax machine, because all other providers have them, and most insurance carriers require claims and other forms to be submitted by fax or, even worse, by postal mail. 

Imagine a physician needs to send out an insurance request to approve lab tests for a patient. Her staff can quickly pull together all of the relevant information from the office’s EHR system—patient details, insurance information, lab-test billing codes, etc. But the insurer requires all such requests sent to their offices via fax.

This means the doctor’s office administrator will need to print a hardcopy of the patient record from their EHR (which can run to over 100 pages), draft a cover sheet for the fax, double check that the fax number is correct, walk over to and feed the pages into their office fax machine, hoping it doesn’t jam, and wait for the delivery confirmation to be returned.

What’s more, the insurer at the other end will need to carefully review the paper document when it reaches their fax machines or fax servers—because each doctor’s office fills out these requests in slightly different ways—and then input all of the data back into their own digital system.

Not exactly an interoperability success story, is it?

1200 px beckers health quote eFax Coroporate

Fax isn’t going away anytime soon

Nor can healthcare providers expect that faxing will simply fade away on its own. Despite all the renewed calls for interoperability, the industry is still dependent on the fax protocol for sensitive data exchange, and the technology is thoroughly embedded in the workflow processes of many large provider and payer organizations.

That is why, according to a study covered in Becker’s Health IT & CIO Report, fax machines accounted for around 75% of all medical communication in 2017. 

So, if the HHS and the industry’s thought leaders are calling for digital patient data exchange and system interoperability, but at the same time, many healthcare and payer organizations still need to communicate by fax, what is a health provider to do?

The paperless solution: cloud fax

There is one solution that meets the demands of both of these constituents, and it is available today. That solution is cloud faxing—specifically, a cloud fax solution that can be embedded directly into your organization’s EHR system.

With the HIPAA compliant cloud fax solution from eFax Corporate, healthcare providers and other covered entities can digitally send, receive, and store ePHI-based faxes—far more easily, cost-effectively, and securely than with traditional fax infrastructure, without ever printing a single sheet of paper.

With eFax Corporate, administrator Verma’s goal of a paperless, fax less office by 2020 is fully achievable today, with no need for investment in new software systems.

But eFax Corporate also offers another series of benefits specific to health providers’ goals of meeting the industry’s interoperability standards for digital data exchange.

Because the eFax Corporate API integrates easily into EHR platforms, healthcare companies of all types can embed cloud-faxing capability right into their digital systems, so their staff can send faxes electronically without ever having to leave their EHR interface.

  • Cloud faxes sent through your EHR platform can be delivered directly into your recipient’s system. This means your staff can easily “fax” documents such as lab results, clinical summaries, and continuity-of-care records without having to print or scan hardcopies or even leave the EHR system.
  • Faxes can have barcodes added to them and can be routed on the basis of those same barcodes, all within the cloud fax system.
  • Because they are faxing through the eFax Corporate platform, your staff will be able to preserve and archive not only digital copies of the fax documents themselves but will also have access to the metadata surrounding each fax—time sent, delivery confirmation, number of pages, etc.—which can help with compliance, internal record-keeping, and fax-usage allocation.
  • Because digital cloud faxes sent via eFax Corporate replace the unstructured data (such as the handwritten notes on a hardcopy fax cover sheet) with discrete, structured data, this method of faxing can help streamline document exchanges and lead to improved patient care and improve your company’s operations.

The healthcare industry has a long way to go before it reaches universal interoperability standards for digital patient data exchange. But your organization can make a large stride in that direction by embedding eFax Corporate’s HIPAA compliant cloud fax solution into your EHR platform.

To learn more about how eFax Corporate® can help your company improve interoperability of your health data, read our white paper, Cloud Fax Remains the Cornerstone of Health Data-Exchange Interoperability.

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