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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