Despite many assuming the fax machine to be in its death throes, the medium continues to be resuscitated by embedded legacy systems and security fears. Now research has revealed that the NHS has 9,000 fax machines in use across the country, showing how some of the UK’s biggest organisations are keeping fax on life support.
“NHS hospital trusts remain stubbornly attached to using archaic fax machines for a significant proportion of their communications. This is ludicrous,” says Richard Kerr, chair of the Royal College of Surgeons commission on the future of surgery.
With 269 billion emails sent every day and the advent of cloud computing meaning more documents are shared online, it would seem high time the fax machine was consigned. Yet, there are still 46.3 million active fax machines in the world, sending 17 billion faxes each year. What’s more, the International Data Corporation’s 2017 survey found that 82% of users saw fax usage sustained or even increased over the previous year.
In Terminal Need of Digitisation
Despite these astounding figures, it’s varying efficiency and reliance on paper mean its days remain numbered as more businesses and consumers leave fax machines behind.
Many of the benefits of fax are shared (and improved upon) by the use of e-signatures. E-signatures are legally binding for nearly every business or personal transaction in almost every country in the world. Documents can be signed on any device, anywhere, anytime, with senders notified in real-time when recipients have received, opened and signed envelopes. Turnaround time can be mere minutes and a clear audit trail provides transparency and regulatory compliance.
It’s worth comparing the tamper-sealing, strong authentication and bank grade security of e-signatures to the fax machines kept in unlocked offices and printed messages able to be picked up by just about anyone passing by.
What’s more, fax machines lack the green credentials of paperless processes. Each year, 2 million trees’ worth of paper is used for faxing documents. Reducing fax usage could save 360 million gallons of water and eliminate 3 million pounds of air pollution. For businesses looking to save the environment, or at least precious floor space taken up by filing cabinets, going paperless means leaving fax behind.
Fax remains prevalent in healthcare, propped up by stretched budgets, lack of system integration and regulations protecting patient data. This is despite the UK Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt declaring that the NHS would be paperless by 2018.
Phillippa Hentsch of NHS Providers blames a lack of funds for the over-reliance on outdated technology. “For too long NHS capital spending on facilities and technology has been pared back in order to keep services going,” she says. “We see the results. Fax machines belong to the past.”
It is a similar situation on the other side of the Atlantic. The number of US hospitals using electronic records grew from 9 percent in 2008 to 83 percent in 2015 under the Obama administration’s $30 billion investment. The lack of a cohesive fully digital system, however, has prevented the sharing of records between hospitals and doctors’ offices. The solution? More faxing.
DocuSign, however, is already demonstrating how e-signature can transform the patient experience, its SAP integration and fast adoption unburdening healthcare providers from clipboards and complex claims processing.
Signs of Life After Fax
There are companies making a conscious decision to put fax machines to bed. Premier Inn, one of the UK’s biggest hotel chains, will remove all fax machines from the back offices of more than 750 sites.
More and more businesses, charities and NGOs are embracing electronic signature, leaving paper behind along with the fax machines that consume it – without sacrificing the benefits that have sustained this means of communication for so long.
“As digital technologies begin to play a much bigger role in how we deliver healthcare, it’s absolutely imperative that we invest in better ways of sharing and communicating all of the patient information that is going to be generated,” says Richard Kerr, chair of the Royal College of Surgeons commission on the future of surgery.
E-signature could do much to improve the health of the NHS’ aging processes. A healthcare industry driven by fully digital, integrated systems is one that will serve patients and agents well for years to come.
 International Data Corporation’s (IDC) 2017 fax survey, Fax Market Pulse: Trends, Growth and Opportunities