Blunt axe for the fax

Last week, we asked readers whether they thought a local axe the fax campaign, based on a similar one launched in the UK to rid the NHS of its fax machines, would work on this side of the planet. While the majority of respondents to our poll did – 64.5 per cent said yes, versus 35.5 per cent saying no – many of the resulting comments on the blog and on our Facebook Chat site were not so sure. It was not so much about whether a campaign would work, but whether we should even bother.

Many of the commenters, GPs and practice staff in the main, were of the opinion that faxes were entrenched in the healthcare system for very good reason: they are quick, easy, and everyone knows how to use them. Certainly there is a recognition that they were not exactly secure and there are plenty of GPs who detest them, but there are also plenty who say they are still the easiest, most reliable form of communication.

Some called for a secure email system, and a few for secure messaging, despite it being in wide use for many years for delivering pathology results straight to the GP's desktop. And general practices themselves have been required to use one for a number of years if they are claiming the eHealth Practice Incentive Payment (ePIP).

We believe secure messaging is the way to go but we certainly understand the barriers to its use, the main ones being lack of interoperability between the different services and the lack of uptake by specialists and allied health. Interoperability is just around the corner – or so we are promised – but for the time being, fax is still alive and kicking.

Interestingly, one thing that may finally see its demise is the NBN. There were quite a few who said they were forced to pay for online fax services because the NBN had replaced the old PTSN lines and traditional faxes have become unreliable. Problem is, each page can cost about 10c, and that's on the receiving end. So it may very well be that it's the multi-billion dollar NBN allied to the 10c -per-page internet-based fax that finally kills of the fax machine as we know it. Going by the comments this week though, we're not going to bet on it just yet.

In other news, the Senate Community Affairs committee report into the My Health Record opt-out program was due this week, but it has been delayed a bit. It's now expected on Monday or Tuesday. In the meantime, Labor's health spokesperson Catherine King has got on the front foot and briefed Fairfax Media on what Labor's plans are, which might give a hint at what the recommendations will be.

While we think there has been a lot of fear-mongering and misinformation over what the record is, what it contains and who has access to it, rewriting or at least revamping the legislation underpinning the My Health Record isn't going to hurt anyone. The system has been live for six years now so it's not like it's going to be cancelled at this stage, and tightening a few loose screws here and there shouldn't be a problem.

There was also movement at EMR vendor Cerner – Monica Trujillo and Michael Draheim have joined the company in what was our top story for this week – and there was an update from Primary Health Care, which is re-introducing booked appointments, rolling out MedicalDirector's cloud-based Helix PMS, implementing a new radiology system and going on a fact-finding mission for a new pathology system to replace the four currently used around the country.

Meanwhile, the saga of the RACGP and its dealings with Canadian PMS vendor Hello Health lingers on. The college is holding its annual conference on the Gold Coast this weekend and we hear there is a great deal of disquiet over the potential damage to its reputation by moves to ally itself with a commercial vendor. The existing vendors are not happy, that's for sure. We'll have a little more on that next week.

In the meantime, here's our poll question for this week: do you think the My Health Record legislation needs to be rewritten?

Sign up to our weekend edition to vote or leave your thoughts below.

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