Matt Hancock’s decision to axe the fax – PUBLIC Opinion

Mia Millman

10 December 2018

PUBLIC voices its opinion on the NHS decision to axe fax machines.

Yesterday it was announced that the NHS will be banned from purchasing any more fax machines and must phase out the ones they already own.

Fax machines and the NHS are not a new subject of discussion – or ridicule. Speaking at the GovTech Summit last month, Matt Hancock, Health and Social Care Secretary, joked: “As the legal owner of the world’s largest collection of fax machines, I would accept that we have some way to go in the NHS.”

The Health Secretary also commented: “If you have an idea for the improvement of the health system in the UK from use of technology, we want to hear from you. We want to try it, we want to see it work.”

But what does the decision to #AxeTheFax mean for the public sector? A step in the right direction towards a more tech-enabled NHS?

Here’s what the PUBLIC Team (and beyond) had to say:

Daniel Korski, CEO and Co-founder of PUBLIC:

“New technology can transform public health. Old and outdated technology carries the risk of NHS underperforming, being slower and less efficient than it could and should be. Fax machines, along with cheques, landlines, and pagers fall into the latter category. So it’s great to see changes happening that will benefit patients and NHS staff.”

Alexander de Carvalho, CIO and Co-founder of PUBLIC:

“We need to ensure that we’re future-proofing our NHS. Some people will be worried about the immediate risks of removing faxes. This will of course be a phased approach. It is, however, the right approach. Digital tools are more than capable of replacing and improving on the current ways of business and are not more expensive. The reason fax machines are still used is to support poor IT infrastructure. That is not a reason to continue. This announcement is an important nudge to the tech sector that will help drive the development of integrated, electronic health records and improved pathways. This is an ambitious and exciting step towards improving patient outcomes and step-changing our system and we should support the announcement and its positive consequences.”

Dr Barney Gilbert, Co-founder of Forward Health:

“This is a fantastic step forward for the NHS. For too long clinicians and patients have had to grapple with outdated technology. This causes delays and inhibits our ability to offer the highest-quality, most efficient care. Scrapping the fax is a real line in the sand and we hope it is the first of many steps towards modernising how we communicate in hospitals. From pagers to paper, there are a lot of areas still to be addressed, but there is also a huge amount of new tech that can help that happen. We’re looking forward to seeing further progress in the months and years ahead.”

Dr Anas Nader, CEO of Patchwork:

“The fact faxes still exist is itself almost a hindrance to the digitisation of the system. As long as people have fax there as an option, they won’t invest in new digital systems that truly transfer information between people in a seamless way. If we are to accelerate the digitisation of the NHS and truly create the incentives to invest in interoperability and systems speaking to each other, we need to phase out fax machines which are often used as a shortcut.”

Dr Govin Murugachandran, CEO of Flynotes:

“It’s about time! Fax machines are time-consuming cumbersome and can impact on the quality of care. There are cheaper and more efficient ways to communicate and it is a shame it has taken this long to phase out a piece of technology which is not fit for purpose in a quickly evolving digital NHS.”

Want to hear what else Matt Hancock had to say at the GovTech Summit? Watch his panel, From Lab to Gov, on YouTube now.

Earlier this year, PUBLIC published a report on HealthTech. Click here to read The Promise of HealthTech. 

One Comment

  1. Jerry Macdonald RN January 6, 2019 at 2:43 pm - Reply

    Why are fax machines still used so extensively in health care? Two words: privacy & security. Faxes are sent via “POTS” (plain old telephone service), also known as landline, which is very secure from hacking and other intrusions. E-mail is not secure, and so it is not safe to send sensitive information, like patients’ health information, via email.

    “What about e-mail encryption?”, you might ask? Have you ever tried it? It’s bloody complicated, and very limiting when trying to communicate with individuals that are not very tech-savvy. See these articles for more on why this is:
    https://www.techrepublic.com/article/why-email-encryption-is-failing-and-how-to-fix-it/
    https://www.howtogeek.com/187961/why-no-one-uses-encrypted-email-messages/

    So, we use faxes. Referrals are faxed to specialists, or to specialty services like rehab programmes and diabetes clinics; ECGs and other chart documents are faxed to referral hospitals, to enable transfers to higher levels of care; reports are faxed to primary-care providers’ offices. Information that is less time-sensitive may also be sent the really old-fashioned way: via “snail mail”.

    Employer policies in the health care sector often prohibit using email to communicate with anyone outside of the employer’s internal network, which includes patients/clients & their family members, out of concern for privacy, since email is not secure. In addition, physicians’ offices & medical clinics do not list their email addresses on public directories, whereas they do list phone & fax numbers and mailing addresses.

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