When was the last time you used a fax machine? 2005, maybe 2010 at a push? There is a reason why this old technology has fallen out of favor. It is outdated, inefficient, and has simply been replaced by a myriad of newer, better, solutions that outpace the old system.
Not unlike how the Internet we use today outpaced dialup. But if you work in the medical field in America, chances are fairly likely that even if you haven’t used a fax machine yourself in the last decade, that you have at least walked past one on your daily rounds.
If you’re asking yourself why that is, you’re not alone. It is a question that has asked by many over the decade. Especially if we consider the massive evolutions in medicine in the past few years, such as using computer vision to detect melanoma or Artificial Intelligence to diagnose breast cancer, it is reasonable to wonder why these emerging technologies co-exist with ones that have been gathering dust in other industries.
The benefits outweigh the costs of going digital.
Depending on who you ask, the fax machine is still relevant in medicine for a number of reasons — from IT security to HIPAA compliance and other regulations. The same argument could be made for going back to paper for all medical records. While it may be a lot harder to conduct a widespread ‘hack’ of a patient’s paper records than an Electronic Medical Record (EMR), it is safe to say that the benefits have outweighed the costs of going digital.
No system is perfect, of course, but the introduction of Electronic Health Records (EHRs) and EMRs has provided numerous benefits to both medical professionals and patients. EHRs help support improved patient outcomes — from improved safety to error reduction, the gains are many. A survey of medical providers found that 94% found that EHRs make records more readily available. The survey of patients found further benefits in improved care, from increased access to medical care to a reduction in prescription error.
For all of the arguments in favor of fax as a more ‘secure’ and ‘private’ means of transferring clinical data, there are probably as many points of evidence pointing to the flaws in the system. The list of data breaches associated with medical records being sent to the wrong fax number, for example, probably outnumbers the number of pages in the fax machine at your local provider.
Legacy systems are still en vogue in the healthcare sector in the United States and may still be for some time. Regulatory systems and the judicial system advance at a much slower rate than the fast-paced industry that is technology. However, given the recent constraints on the medical field brought on by the pandemic, we are overdue for the widespread adoption of newer technology.
Telemedicine makes medicine more accessible for Doctors and their patients. It is important we utilize technology, of course, after accounting for the potential risks and doing our due diligence to mitigate them. This is no easy task, but its one we must undertake to help improve the industry, for everyone’s sake.