Do we need to take a local axe to the fax?
It's just over two years ago now that the RACGP put its foot down on the continuing use of the fax in general practice, issuing a position paper calling for healthcare services and government agencies that communicate patient information with general practice to cut out the paper and move instead to secure electronic means.
The college had high hopes that this could happen in three years, what with alternative means such as secure messaging already a mature technology. But while progress has been made by the industry to achieve interoperability between secure messaging providers, the fax machines are still there, cranking out as much paper as ever.
So we took a liking to an article this week in one of the RACGP's publications about how some GPs simply aren't going to take it anymore. Adelaide GP Oliver Frank has decided to refuse to use the fax machine and is doing his utmost to make it harder for others to turn to it.
While we're aware of pockets of this sort of rebellion breaking out in other parts of the country, sometimes it seems they are a lone voice. And some GPs don't make it any easier for their colleagues: we've mentioned before the Victorian telepsychiatrist Richard Harvey, who subscribes to four different secure messaging services but can't get GPs to refer to him electronically.
In Australia there are some bright spots – Tasmania hopes to build a statewide eReferral network, Victoria has had an eReferrals project working through some of the obstacles facing the hospital sector, and some practices in Sydney are moving on to newer technology such as smart forms – but while this progress is good, it still doesn't solve the problem of specialist and allied health correspondence with GPs and vice versa.
And while NZ has its GP2GP system to electronically transfer entire patient medical records, in Australia that capability is a pipe dream.
Perhaps it is time to adopt what seems to be a successful campaign being run in the UK to rid the NHS of its fax machines. The grand old socialist lady was most embarrassed by an investigation mounted by the Royal College of Surgeons in July that showed it was one of the world's highest users of fax technology, with 9000 of the machines churning it out.
Last month, Leeds Teaching Hospital committed to binning almost all of its fax machines by January 1. It has got together with a public relations firm to launch an “axe the fax” campaign that seems to be catching on. Some of it is a bit naff, to use a Britishism, with NHS trusts asked to sign a pledge setting a goal date for axing the fax. There is also a dinky little animation that you can see here.
The campaign materials are all a bit silly but then again, so are fax machines. And naff or not, it seems to be working, with a number of healthcare organisations joining up. We wonder it it could take off here in the next year or so. That three-year goal set by the RACGP is getting closer and closer. Tick, tock.
That brings us to our poll question for the week: Would a local axe the fax campaign work?
Sign up to our weekend edition to vote or leave your thoughts below.
Our poll last week asked: Should the RACGP endorse software products? Absolutely not, say our readers. 89 per cent said no, and just 11 per cent said.