In a day and age where everything is done digitally over the internet, from correspondences to administration, it may seem strange that many hospitals continue to use fax machines. To technophiles everywhere, this probably seems like an affront, the equivalent of cutting holes into people’s heads to let out bad spirits and cure a headache. However, before you rush off to join that exalted march of progress, do consider the advantages and uses of fax machines in the day-to-day running of a modern day hospital.
Short of being dogged stubbornness of medical luddites, fax machines have critical roles in hospital administration.
Fax Machines are Universal
We live in a globalised world, with people coming and going from different countries all the time. These countries all have differing levels of development, from high-tech giants like Japan and the EU, to countries still getting their technological infrastructure off the ground, such as China and Latin America. In countries where e-mail is not quite as common, especially in such nations where healthcare facilities are neglected. Thus, clinics and doctors in these areas rely on older, cheaper technologies such as landline phones and fax machines.
Thus, it is simply easier for doctors to communicate and exchange documents internationally if they have access to a fax machine, especially if the hospital receives many patients whose medical files are an ocean away.
One other interesting perk is the way fax machines bridge different languages. Asian nations, such as China, Korea, Japan, and Vietnam, all use highly complex scripts utilising thousands of individual characters, as opposed to the much simpler Roman alphabet, which only has 26. Plus a few additional characters for sounds such as æ or è depending on the language. Thus, it is very tedious and time consuming for some international doctors to write out e-mails by keyboard.
In comparison, fax machines are much more convenient to use, as they only require a quick fax number, and nearly all countries are familiar with Arabic numerals. Thus, Japanese and Chinese hospitals nearly always favor fax machines over alternative methods of communication, as they are simply better suited to the complexities of their scripts.
Fax Machines are Easy to Use
For those digital natives who’ve been using the internet and computers from a young age, it is easy to take for granted how accessible e-mail programmes such as Outlook is. Even then, most people do not even know three-quarters of Outlook and Gmail’s other features. Fax machines, meanwhile, are so basic it is not even funny. It is really just a telephone for documents. You tap in the fax number, insert the document you want to send, and it is sent.
So for older people who are not as computer savvy as Millennials, or for Millennials who seldom use e-mail in professional contexts, a fax machine is just easier to use.
Old Documents May Not Always be Online
If you’re researching family medical history, such as trying to find a hereditary trend towards certain ailments or trying to trace misplaced or lost medical files for older patients, it’s unlikely hospitals will have digital copies of older medical records. While archives across the country often make serious attempts to digitize their records, there are often gaps. This can pose a problem if you are trying to diagnose a patient in real time.
So what do you do if you want a record and there’s no online document to be found on hospital databases? You track down the physical file and use a fax machine to deliver it to whichever hospital requested it.
This method is much faster and easier than trying to scan in the file to a computer, neatening it off, and then attaching it to an e-mail, especially if there are several documents to be delivered. It also means that the doctor themselves have a hard copy of their own, which they can keep with the patient’s medical records should they ever need it again.
Some Documents Require Signatures
Many medical forms require signatures, whether it is a doctor authorising a prescription or a parent giving consent for their child’s vaccination shots. These cannot be readily transmitted through e-mail and are also potentially forged through photo editing software.
Fax machines are quick and painless ways to avert this problem. The right forms can simply be faxed to the recipient; signatures acquired, and then sent straight back. At most, it would take about five minutes, and the doctor knows that the fax is genuine, as the fax all has to be authorised by both ends.
With all of the breaches that occur on a regular basis of workplace e-mails, it is easy to see that even the most secure e-mail still isn’t secure. Hacking attacks or even simple social engineering can compromise an e-mail. Hospitals are obligated to maintain patient confidentiality, and so are bound by HIPAA regulations – and e-mail is NOT HIPAA compliant. Faxes provide a far more secure transmission than e-mail.
So remember that the next time someone sneers at the use of fax machines in hospitals. They are not outdated; they are venerable, and deserving of some respect for all they do. If you need to send a fax somewhere, but don’t have a machine yourself, there are many online faxing services that are just as good as the real thing. To find these services the best place to go is Find A Fax.
The writer, Christian Mills, used to work in the medical industry and understands how technology truly applies in the field. If you wish to learn more you can visit on Google+.