One year to phase out fax machines in the NHS? Quite possibly the simplest of migrations ever, surely…

In an age where organisations of all sizes, from one-man-bands to multi-site conglomerates, are getting to grips with updating what on the face of it would seem like futuristic tech to uber futuristic tech, the NHS has been given until the end of March 2020 to remove all of its fax machines.

Hardly a move to the cloud is it? But I guess at least it’s a move in the right direction. I can’t remember the last time I saw a fax machine in use; in fact, I have colleagues who’ll now no doubt be relying upon Google to find out exactly what one is.

Acceptable in the 80s

A boon to businesses in the 80s – not least following a postal strike in 1988. It’s surprising that not only are they still being used to transfer highly-confidential patient information but also that they’re widespread.

I can hear the conversation now: “Hi, I have some highly-confidential patient information, the communication of which is crucial to that patient’s safety. I’ll use some 30-year-old technology to get it over to you.” Now, there’s a non sequitur in real-time. This regulatory and compliance nightmare must keep those that have to think about such things awake at night.

Perhaps those of us at the forefront of technology are spoilt by the tools we have at our disposal. Skype, Slack, Box – all systems that without which we quite simply couldn’t operate.

An opportunity to modernise

Commenting in a BBC news article, Rebecca McIntyre, a cognitive behavioural therapist, said: “We constantly receive faxes meant for other places in error but this is never reported.” In this age of data security and patient confidentiality, this is truly shocking, isn’t it?

She adds: “You would not believe the palaver we have in the work place trying to communicate important documents to services (referrals etc.).”

I’ve commented before that the opportunity to modernise in the NHS is huge, and coming from a base point, which includes the widespread use of fax machines, the opportunities for efficiencies and modernisation in the NHS are there for all to see.

We rely heavily on accessing data quickly and securely. Applications such as Box allow us to share confidential information with our colleagues and external parties – we take this for granted even.

But, the reason we do so is because it’s easy for us to do so and crucially, accessible and part of how we all do business in 2019.

I’m fully aware the NHS has had a few false starts with mainframe IT systems. Perhaps the trusty old fax machine has been its saving grace in times of need.

Or perhaps it’s just like the old chap who has stood at the same corner of the same bar in his same local pub for years and years. It’s time for him to find a comfy snug as punters are trying to pay for drinks and food with contactless cards and smartphones.

Bravo and goodbye fax machine. I salute your service but there’s a number of new kids on the block now – and all of them offering greater speed, safety and security.

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