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  • Hafizah Osman

Fax Appeal: there is a long way to go before we eradicate fax machines in Healthcare

The Australian healthcare industry is preparing itself for a wide-scale replacement of the fax machine with secure messaging systems for patient information sharing, but the former’s use will still exist in many organisations, a panel discussion has heard.

At the Wild Health Summit in Sydney, industry leaders stressed the importance of digital change, but said, during the panel discussion, that fax machine usage could still benefit some players in the sphere.

Medical Software Industry Association CEO Emma Hossack said by this time next year, there will be the opportunity to do away with fax machines, but some may choose to keep using them.

“In some small clinics, it may not be worth using anything more than a fax machine. They will still serve their purpose, so they won’t need to get rid of them,” she said.

“However, in the case of a larger, busy hospital, systems need to be interconnected and requires seamless integration. Faxes will just go forwards and backwards in this scenario.”

UnitingCare St Stephen Hospital General Manager and Director of Clinical Services Darren Rogers mentioned that the industry is still in its infancy in eradicating the fax machine, but systems being put in place is enabling it to head in the right direction.

“We are quite conservative in healthcare. To rid the fax machine in a bigger network, we’re not there yet. There’s still a long way to go to have secure messaging systems rolled out and working efficiently in larger hospital settings,” he said.

“It’s hard to change a system that works a great deal of the time but a unified approach is needed for improving the quality and delivery of care.”

Telstra Health Chief Technology Officer Russel Duncan said faxes work as an option as they are cheap and anyone can own them.

“If you want the technology option, you’ve got to drive it through funding or business motivation. The time will come where the current system will be out of favour of where we’re going,” he said.

According to Duncan, healthcare is currently operating in three different silos, and the right incentive is needed to streamline them.

“The government is trying to reduce tasks, primary care is trying to increase revenue and patients are trying to keep well. This interoperability and the use of faxes and secure messaging, is a challenge, and getting the right incentive to convert the industry is necessary.”

Western Sydney Primary Health Network CEO Walter Kmet said incentives that prove a technology supports a good model of care will help with industry transitions to better models of secure messaging systems.

“If the incentives around being able to provide a service that’s coordinated around a patient and their needs, then change will naturally come. The issue about tech, connectivity and technology will not work anymore than a fax if we can’t get the model of care right,” he said.

Kmet suggested that conversations evolve from pushing messages between providers to having a system around patients being able to make decisions about their care based on good information and the best possible care.

“The industry talks a lot about integration, but whose integration is it? We talk about integration of systems as if it’s all about connectivity. Actually, it’s about patients knowing how the system is going to serve them and be integrated around their needs.

“Where it has worked for us is incentivising team-based care, instead of those that work as individuals,” he said.

Sydney North Primary Health Network CEO Lynelle Hales said systems that replace fax machines shouldn’t take twice the time and have half the functionality.

“The systems have to work simply and they simply have to work. In the end, we have to start somewhere and for me, the key is the political strength to drive forward. Unless we can start on that, we’re never really going to get to the point where we can connect up systems,” she said.

Hossack added that there needs to be a business case to drive change.

“The difficulty is getting a conservative profession that is financially struggling to change the way it operates. There needs to be a combination of disruption, with industry, healthcare providers and governments joining forces to make it work.

“It’s not going to always work 100 per cent. We need to accept that health technology is complicated and be very clear on what its intended purpose is for it to be a success,” he said.

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