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Room 101 – The fax machine

by in Room 101

PM Polly

What from your surgery would you throw in?

Now, now – Julie on reception is not allowed (though we’d all like to at times wouldn’t we!).

I’ve been asked to go first, “PM Polly”, James said – “of everything that you work with – what is it you’d most like to get rid of?”

I didn’t have to think of it more than a fraction of a second because I am yet to understand the survival of this oddity. This eccentric misfit. This fish out of water. This square peg in a round hole. I often ask why it is still here? Why should it be trusted? This oddball. This maverick.

Of course I talk of – the fax machine.

I feel, still, relatively new to general practice. Only joining as a practice manager seven years ago. The most surprising thing during my induction (by induction I mean a white board that had three lines written on it, QOF, GP quarterly payments and EXETER – I hadn’t the foggiest idea what any of them meant) – anyway, the most surprising thing during my first few days in general practice was the prominence, the importance, the prestigiousness of the illustrious – fax machine.

The fax machine, not just used for the occasional ‘hope it gets there and the paper hasn’t run out’ kind of communication. No. The fax machine in general practice is one with a puffed out chest, one of dominance and supremacy. The fax machine clearly won the jousting contest with the email, the telephone, the internet, the electronic referral, social media, Skype and even texting.

The fax machine is the chosen way to communicate. The most intimate. The most important. The most crucial. The most sensitive information in general practice. The fax machine! The fax machine that runs out of paper ALWAYS when the most important fax is due to come through. The fax machine that will not communicate to its kinswoman – that it did not in fact receive crucial information from her. The fax urgently sent to advise Mr Roberts needs a visit on Monday morning gives little consideration to the ink declining, ink fading, ink evaporating within the centre of it’s plastic physical structure.

The fax machine is the most careless, unreliable, untrustworthy piece of machinery and it does not have place in 2019. In 2019 we have emails that send information over to its recipient in a split second. Emails that enable scanned photographs and text to arrive at its destination without the need for squinting or deciphering smudged lines. Emails that can generate a receipt upon delivery and upon being read. Emails that do not rely on hope. Emails that do not rely on Julie being bothered to change the toner.

Can we just confine the fax machine to Room 101 forever? Seriously, please! What would you put in?

PM Polly


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PM Polly

PM Polly

Experienced Practice Manager doing my best to stay sane.

View all posts by PM Polly
5 Responses to “Room 101 – The fax machine”
  1. Avatar
    David Clippingdale Says:

    So e-mails are totally reliable then? I think not…. at least with a Fax machine every member of staff that walked past it could see there was an incoming message there.
    How do you deal with multiple users on one e-mail account? How many times do you think the account gets locked because the wrong password is used? E-mails rejected because the inbox is full?
    ‘Call me Matt’ made a big mistake getting rid of the fax machines from the NHS.
    There will be unfortunate consequences along the line because an e-mail was not received somewhere for whatever reason.
    I for one will continue to use a Fax where I consider it the best method at the time – It is better to have some old tools in the tool box – you never know when you will need them!
    PM of 25 years standing and GPIT lead.


  2. Avatar
    Jim Hickey Says:

    Sorry Polly – I’m with David on this one – and I seem to remember a blog from you back in February about the trillion emails that hit practices – along with problems of network down/computer slow.

    I reckon most of us could fill the ICO GDPR team with shed loads of wrongly addressed emails containing personal data that has been addressed to the wrong recipient.

    Faxes are electronic, secure, unhackable – and in 15+ years I have never know them not be available in power cuts or denial of service attacks etc.
    And yes, they need ink and paper – surely that is no different to prescription printers !! Bet you wouldn’t tolerate those supplies not being checked so why take a different view for fax machines.

    ‘Call me Matt’ clearly has not the faintest idea what it is like doing daily, sometimes hourly, battle with an overloaded and non-fit-for-purpose N3 connection that has major outages on average 3 times a week – and which he blindly dictates must be clogged even further with more and more services must be web-based.

    And – guess what our local 2nd care provider uses as a fail-safe for urgent radiology, unexpected path results and urgent treatment requests ?
    – the fax.

    And how many times have you had to interrupt a team member to urgently scan a letter or such like so that they can put it on a central drive so you can attach it to an email – when you could simply have faxed.

    I’m all for up-to-date systems and improvements – but if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it and put the energy and resource to something that is broken and which will make a difference.

    Sending faxes in error is no more or less likely than sending emails in error – it is a user issue not a system issue – and scrapping fax machines does not change the users !!


  3. Avatar
    Nicola Davies Says:

    I’d be siding with David on this one……the danger of emails is are we sure that the address is a generic one, read by more than one person?…..
    As David says, the fax isn’t user specific, so anyone can pick up anything at any time of day.

    I totally understand that email is secure (as long as it’s nhs.net) but we need a robust email protocol in place WITH SECONDARY CARE for they are the chosen ones after all (and by that I mean the offenders!)


  4. PM Polly
    PM Polly Says:

    Emails can be cumbersome but we also face fax issues daily.. Going missing, not being scanned in, paper running out. In my opinion they’re unsafe and unreliable. Emails are totally audited and it’s quite easy to set up one email address to multiple staff. Email attachments can easily be downloaded and scanned into a patient record and vice versa. The biggest issue of course is that faxes are becoming like our old friend the mammoth… extinct in many places so there will be little choice and sometimes there is a need to move with the times rather than stick with ‘we’ve always done it like this’. It’s only my room 101 suggestion. I fear I’ll be stuck with it for some time yet! What would you put in??


  5. Avatar
    martin w Says:

    I’m astonished by the responses to your piece Polly – my fax machine is going to get shot as soon as our local acute departments can be weaned off it.
    We’ve had several SEAs involving fax machine faults, none with email. Fax is insecure (do you really have the right number? Who is standing next to the machine?), unreliable, non-auditable outdated technology that has no benefits over any of the alternatives.
    As to switching workload over to email, I’d rather have 100 emails than 100 faxes any day….


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