Calls to axe the fax in primary healthcare

Calls to axe the fax in primary healthcare

04 July, 2019

It shouldn’t seem ambitious in a time when artificial intelligence is being integrated into almost every product and service by tech giants, for Eastern Melbourne Primary Health Network (EMPHN) to call to axe the fax from our primary healthcare system by 2025. 

However a recent survey by EMPHN found around 95 per cent of general practices still use fax to send and receive referrals to hospitals and specialists, while only 42 per cent send and 74 percent receive referrals via secure messaging. 

Since early 2017 EMPHN has delivered an eReferral pilot, one of the largest implementations of its kind Australia-wide to date, aiming to digitally transform eastern and north-eastern Melbourne’s primary healthcare system . 

eReferral enables documents to be sent electronically from one healthcare service to another, as opposed to sending a fax or posting the referral. 

EMPHN Chair Dr Stephen Duckett said the fax machine has no place in our healthcare system and should be relegated to a museum.  

“The antiquated fax machine could be costing our health service millions in lost time taken to follow-up missing information, transposing errors and repeated pathology tests due to missing or incomplete test results,” he said. 

“eReferral provides a better patient experience too by ensuring the safe transfer of information about a patient between a patient’s GP and other healthcare providers, ensuring quality and continuity of care is maintained as the patient transitions in and out of specialist care.” 

Dr Duckett, who was appointed EMPHN Chair in November 2018, says the initiative reflects EMPHN’s digital health transformation, part of a wider strategic plan to transform primary healthcare. 

“EMPHN is focussing on five strategic priorities to bring about the level of change required in our healthcare system to drive improvements in line with advancements in technology, and assist the primary healthcare system to better meet the rising population experiencing multiple chronic conditions and mental health issues,” he said.  

Over the past two years eReferrals from 218 general practices have increased from next to none to over 1,000 per month to the participating local hospitals networks and community health services. 

With a population of 1.5 million people, EMPHN aims to have 80 per cent of outpatient referrals communicated via a single eReferral system of electronic information exchange within three years and 100 per cent within five years.  

People most likely to benefit are patients with multiple co-morbidities who require a coordinated care approach between acute and primary care services.  

EMPHN’s current Needs Assessment estimates approximately 80 per cent of its adult population have at least one chronic condition and alarmingly 44 per cent of adults have three or more long-term health conditions.  

In addition in 2016-17, 36 per cent of adults in EMPHN’s population saw a medical specialist and 17 percent saw three or more health professionals for the same condition.  

The success of the initiative is integrating eReferrals into GPs’ workflows. 

Referral forms are pre-populated with patient information linked from the GPs’ software. 

The form is sent securely to the intended recipient, provides an acknowledgement receipt and a copy of the referral is automatically uploaded to the patient’s record. 

GP Dr Nathan Pinskier, said secure messaging systems allow healthcare professionals to quickly, securely and safely communicate important healthcare information, such as referrals, specialist letters and hospital discharge summaries.  

“Numerous coroners’ reports have highlighted time and time again the medico-legal and safety risks of a continued reliance on legacy systems such as fax and snail mail,” he said.  

“Now is the time for healthcare as both an industry and profession to work towards axing the fax by adopting 21st century digital communications solutions. 

“This will facilitate more effective and efficient clinical handover and ultimately lead to better healthcare outcomes.” 

Eastern Health Executive Director – Information, Technology and Capital Projects Zoltan Kokai, said as a leader in health care digital transformation in the eastern suburbs of Melbourne, Eastern Health is highly supportive of initiatives that improve communication between hospitals and the primary care service providers. 

“We are pleased to be working in partnership with EMPHN to deliver state of the art electronic messaging between the GP’s and the hospital clinicians that facilitate electronic referrals and discharge summaries with a view to eventually eliminating the fax machine,” he said. 

Eastern Melbourne PHN is funded by the Australian Government under the PHN program. EMPHN’s eReferral initiative is supported by funding by the Australian Digital Health Agency.  


 Media enquiries: Claire James 0425 887 397  

 About EMPHN: Eastern Melbourne PHN is a Primary Health Network funded by the Australian Government to improve the care and support people receive from health services. We aim to improve the health of our community by ensuring people receive the right care, in the right place, at the right time.