No new fax machines as NHS plans to ditch the outmoded tech by 2020

Health Secretary Matt Hancock says shedding the legacy paper-based devices will improve privacy and security concerns, and enable better data sharing.
By Benjamin Harris
10:37 AM

By March 31, 2020, the 8,000 fax machines still in use by the UK's National Health Service will be no more. Citing advances in digital healthcare technology and the need to better communicate with patients, Health Secretary Matt Hancock has ordered the NHS to halt the purchase of any new fax machines and to phase out the ones remaining in service.

Richard Kerr, Chair of the Royal College of Surgeons Commission on the Future of Surgery, agrees that as more digital data is being generated, the need to securely and conveniently access and transmit the data has the nation's hospitals eager to "axe the fax."

Despite the rapid proliferation of everything from artificial intelligence to secure patient portals, the NHS is still one of the major purchasers of fax machines. The technology, long since abandoned by most other industries, is rife with security and functionality concerns. Clinicians rightly worry about sending documents to the correct number or whether the intended recipient is at the other end of the line.

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Ditching the fax is just another instance of the healthcare industry reluctantly fleeing "the dark ages." The benefits are numerous but mainly skew towards privacy and security concerns. Fax machines are vulnerable to cyber attack and make it difficult (if not impossible) to verify that information makes it to the intended recipient. Additionally, the industry needs to catch up to what consumers use. Focusing more on mobile technology, for instance, has been shown to increase efficiency and save cash by reaching patients where they communicate.

"Advances in artificial intelligence, genomics and imaging for healthcare promise exciting benefits for patients," Kerr said to the Guardian. "As these digital technologies begin to play a bigger part in how we deliver healthcare, it is crucial that we invest in better ways of communicating the vast amount of patient information that is going to be generated.

Benjamin Harris is a Maine-based freelance writer and and former new media producer for HIMSS Media.
Twitter: @BenzoHarris.