As part of his ‘tech vision’ to modernise the health service, and make it easier for NHS organisations to introduce innovative technologies, Health Secretary Matt Hancock banned the purchase of fax machines in January this year. He also announced that these machines will be phased out of the NHS by 31 March 2020. NHS Trusts will instead be required to use modern communication methods in order to improve patient safety and cyber security. NHS organisations will be monitored on a quarterly basis until they declare themselves ‘fax free’.
This is an important step forward in modernising the NHS’ communications network. Matt Hancock commented: “Because I love the NHS, I want to bring it into the 21st century and use the very best technology available. We’ve got to get the basics right, like having computers that work, and getting rid of the archaic fax machines still used across the NHS when everywhere else got rid of them years ago.”
However, it is going to be quite a step-change. In 2017 the NHS was named the world’s largest purchaser of fax machines. A Freedom of Information request by the Royal College of Surgeons revealed approximately 8,000 are still being used in hospital Trusts across the country, and many thousands more are still at work in other parts of the health service, such as GP practices.
These fax machines are not creating efficiency and are compromising security and confidentiality within the NHS. There are many horror stories of important documents being sent to the wrong place or sitting on a machine overlooked. Confidential medical histories churn out of fax machines located in the middle of busy wards and doctors have to leave patients’ bedsides to go and retrieve vital information. Sometimes patients arrive for an appointment with their clinician ahead of their documents.
Hours are currently spent scanning faxes into electronic filing systems, and sending the faxes takes considerably longer than sharing documents in digital formats. Information sent by fax cannot be easily shared with several colleagues at once. There is also no proof that the fax has safely arrived with the intended recipient, so time is spent on phone calls and emails to check safe receipt. And, over £100m is spent annually on paper in the NHS. With pressures mounting, including an increasingly ageing population and targets that are becoming ever more challenging, such outdated inefficiency has no place in the digital future of the NHS.
No wonder Richard Kerr, Chair of the Royal College of Surgeons Commission on the Future of Surgery, expressed his frustration: “NHS hospital Trusts remain stubbornly attached to using archaic fax machines for a significant proportion of their communications. This is ludicrous. As digital technologies begin to play a much bigger role in how we deliver healthcare, it’s absolutely imperative that we invest in better ways of sharing and communicating all of the patient information that is going to be generated.”
The scrapping of fax machines will therefore be welcomed by anyone who cares about increasing efficiency, reducing spend and protecting personal data within the health service. So what are the modern alternatives? Email is obviously a step in the right direction. However, even better is a structured messaging platform that enables secure clinical communication between different care settings.
Docman Connect is a Cloud-based solution that is a scalable, cost-effective way of electronically transferring documents and data securely to GPs, in line with NHS standards. Available to all healthcare providers, it is the only service that delivers clinical correspondence into the GP’s workflow system of choice. It enables healthcare organisations without a N3 or Health & Social Care Network (HSCN) connection to send documents through their web browser. Docman Connect ensures all clinical documents are encrypted when sent and decrypted when received, to maintain a secure transfer of care process. Any type of clinical document is acceptable and sent in a structured format, using intelligent routing to ensure the message is delivered in the practice’s preferred format.
The sender can track the document journey, providing peace of mind that the clinical document is being delivered and processed by the intended recipient. The solution proactively monitors all collection points to identify any reasons for delay, while managing all system rejections and ensuring they are returned to the sender. And, this Software as a Service subscription model means no valuable server space is taken up. All of this adds up to greater productivity, tighter confidentiality and improved security.
The health service is already seeing exciting advances in technologies such as artificial intelligence, imaging, wearable tech, genomics, electronic health records and numerous apps. It is essential for patient care that communication channels are not the weak link. They need to be a vital part of the digital transformation that is now taking place, creating greater efficiencies and enabling clinicians to focus on delivering superior patient services. If you haven’t already axed your fax, what are you waiting for?