Fax-free healthcare hindered in aged care

Fax machines are still used widely in aged care, challenging a new push from government to replace them with electronic messaging in the broader health sector.

Fax machines – introduced in Australia in the 1980s – are still used widely in aged care, challenging a new push from government to replace them with electronic messaging in the broader health sector.

On 26 July the Australian Digital Health Agency announced “fax-free healthcare is one step closer” with a tender to secure confidential electronic messaging technology between healthcare providers “irrespective of the software they are using, the organisation they work for, or with whom they are communicating.”

The digital health agency was established in July 2016 by the Federal Government to improve health outcomes for all Australians through the delivery of digital healthcare systems and the national digital health strategy for Australia.

But according to aged care sector technology experts, the sector has been stymied in using more advanced communication technologies by doctors, pharmacists and other health professionals and services with whom they share information.

Sundale CEO Glen Bunney said fax machines remained in operation in their facilities to communicate with doctors.

“We still have fax machines pretty much exclusively to send and receive information to and from GPs for medication changes or changes in clinical conditions,” Mr Bunney told Australian Ageing Agenda.

“For everyone else we use the more modern technology of email and the like.”

Mr Bunney, who is on the Aged Care Industry Information Technology Council (ACIITC), said that when the Department of Health and Ageing started My Aged Care they “severely under-estimated the proportion of enquiries and referrals they would receive by fax – and that they were all GP-related”.

Fellow ACIITC member Rod Young said fax machines were the primary communication channel between residential facilities and pharmacies and some providers also used them as the main way of communicating with their local hospital.

“This is driven by a lack of alternatives,” Mr Young told AAA.

He said the My Health Record was the logical information channel for the communication between facilities and hospitals and pharmacists.

Mr Young said fax machines were in widespread use in aged care “due to lack of departmental interest in supporting the development of technology capability across the broad cross-section of providers.”

Despite this, he said there was an inbuilt assumption that all services as a minimum maintained an email account.

Department has ‘no plans’ to phase out fax

While utilising more modern means, the Department of Health reported it was relaxed about the use of fax machines in its dealings with aged care.

My Aged Care uses modern technology to enable users to communicate and share information efficiently and the online portals are used by the majority of aged care providers and assessors to enter and access information in the shared client record, a departmental spokeswoman said.

“However, there is still the ability for forms to be submitted to My Aged Care by facsimile and there are no current plans to phase out its use,” a departmental spokeswoman told AAA.

“Fax is still a necessary channel of communication, for example for aged care providers in rural and remote areas where internet connections may be unreliable,” she said.

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Tags: aciitc, aged-care-industry-it-technology-council, australian-digital-health-agency, fax-machines, glenn-bunney, operational, rod-young, slider, sundale,

3 thoughts on “Fax-free healthcare hindered in aged care

  1. I have worked for many years in medical secretarial roles. The use of fax machines were definitely preferred at the large medical practice I worked for (Northern Coast of NSW). There are reasons for this. It might be a sensible idea to get some feedback from the medical profession why this is the case, but as usual, often people of one profession don’t really collaborate with the ‘other’ profession to find out why they differ re methods of patient communication. I have worked for the Pharmaceutical Society of NSW, medical specialists, general practitioners, podiatry, optometry and in the aged care/disabilities sector. Perhaps it is a bit like the drug and alcohol people not talking to the mental health people? (no offence meant- I have personal experience of this quandry). More research and discussion please!

  2. I can’t believe no-one has raised or is concerned about the security vulnerabilities associated with the use of fax machines! With all the hype about cybersecurity of the MHR, we are still ‘relaxed’ about the fact that anyone with the technology can intercept a faxstream, or that people leave faxes with sensitive personal and health information, sitting in full open display on fax machines trays for anyone to pick up or read? Not on the same scale as hacking a database full of MHRs, but more likely (i.e. easier) to occur!

    Not to mention the inefficiencies associated with having to scan faxes and upload them against the resident’s record in the Clinical Management System, rather than a straight import. But then, we know the Health Dept. is ‘relaxed’ about the inefficiencies associated with the lack of integration between their systems and ours, don’t we?

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