29.08.2018

Some industries still using fax machines

Two-thirds of Canadian doctors say their primary means of communication with other physicians is by fax.

Medical clinics in Canada, on average, send and receive a mind-boggling 24,000 pages of faxed information annually. Only about one-third of family physicians and specialists e-mail their colleagues for clinical purposes, never mind patients.

The data, from a 2017 survey of clinicians by Telus Health, remind us that, in the digital age, health care continues to cling desperately to the fax machine, a clunky technology that most industries have long ago relegated to the scrap heap.

Health care is slow to change for communication due to being worried about issues such as cybercrime. Medicine has an intrinsic (verging on pathological) aversion to risk. If a bank introduces a new technology and it flops, that’s an inconvenience for customers; if a hospital does so, it can be deadly.

There is also an obsession with privacy, one that time and time again, trumps convenience and even common sense.

The notion that paper-based records are somehow safer and more secure than electronic records beggars belief. Yet, rules and regulations still hold that a fax is a secure means of communication while e-mail is often not considered secure unless it is encrypted.

The majority of primary care physicians, 77%, according to Canada Health Infoway, use electronic medical records to maintain clinical notes. The systems they use, however, come from a wide variety of vendors and are often unable to communicate with each other.

That means GPs often can’t send files to specialists, share imaging such as MRIs, or e-prescribe. (Almost half of prescriptions are still written by hand.) Sometimes, two departments within the same hospital can’t even communicate electronically.

Because of this lack of interoperability, almost everyone falls back to the tried and tested (and flawed) method, the fax machine. When you send a fax, it can lie around in the machine, which is a privacy issue; fax machines run out of paper, and don’t have much memory. To receive information, it has to be fed manually into a machine.

Studies have shown, time and time again, that about half of all medical errors are the result of communication problems.

It is all the more important in an age when many patients have multiple chronic illnesses and a variety of health care providers. Consider that the average frail elderly patient sees two GPs and five specialists in four different clinical settings, and their records are often still paper-based. The fact that their medical files are scattered about like seeds in the wind rather than in one central electronic medical record is unconscionable.

In Canada, you can be rushed to the ER, and your family doctor will have no idea you have been there; if the ER wants records from your specialist, they will likely have to get them by fax, during daytime business hours; and, if they want to know your medication history, they likely will have no idea how to contact your pharmacist.

Billions and billions of dollars have been spent creating massive health information systems, but we still don’t have the basics down, such as a single electronic medical record (EMR) with a patient’s medical history, accessible to all appropriate health providers.

The technology exists. It’s affordable, and it’s essential. But to make way for the new, we have to usher out the old. Fax machines belong in a museum, not in 21stcentury medical practice.

Frama RMail not only provides a platform for creating a document with and e-signature option, but also provides peace of mind with 256-bit encryption and legally verifiable proof of delivery and content as standard. 

It is this type of tool that can eliminate issues over communication, provide transparency and in this case even save lives.

Contact Frama today to find out how your business can expedite contract signing and improve efficiencies.