Why the Fax Still Lives (and How to Kill It)
Legions of users are still clinging to these analog relics (for some surprisingly good reasons). But here's how to cut the cord.
Mon, January 13, 2014
PC World — The year 2014 marks the 50th anniversary of the modern fax machine, a device developed by Xerox that became as much a staple of offices worldwide as the coffee machine. But in the last decade its reputation has shifted from that of utter necessity to one of the most loathed pieces of equipment in the building. Supplanted by the combination of email, e-signature services, and scanners, fax machines should have been killed off years ago. And yet they're still here.
Butwhy? Who, in an era that boasts eyeglasses that record your every move and watches that can display your text messages, is still sending faxes? On paper!
We decided to find out. Meet the culprits, and hear their defense of their crimes.
Doctors: A fax a day keeps the lawsuits away
If you want to start pointing fingers, you can start with your physician. Thanks to the HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act), documents transmitted between various doctors, labs, and insurers have to be "secure." The parlance of HIPAA is complex and poorly understood, but it requires only that doctors engage in "reasonable safeguards" when sending messages, regardless of the medium. Over time, this has been interpreted by most doctors to mean that faxes are okay, while email generally isn't.
The reasons for this common perception are unclear. Fax machines are rarely kept in a secure environment, and a printed fax message can be picked up by just about anyone passing by. Email, on the other hand, is password-protected and can be encrypted. Nevertheless, says Lee Kim, Director of the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society, "a document which is being sent via fax is difficult to intercept if sent over an analog telephone line, as this requires special equipment. On the other hand, an unencrypted email may be easier to intercept in transit by eavesdropping on the network." So doctors have stuck with faxing.
While some doctors have started to move toward electronic messaging--notably those at Kaiser Permanente, which actively encourages it--many remain stuck in the past. A physician a few years from retirement likely has no interest in converting his office to an (expensive) secure messaging system when the (cheap) fax machine works as well as it always has. As a result, health care providers across the board need to keep a fax machine installed, if only so they can communicate with an "old-timer" once in a while.
Lawyers: in defense of paper
Leave it to an attorney to offer up numerous justifications for a fax machine. Attorney A. Paul Genato of Princeton, New Jersey-based Archer and Griener, P.C., puts it this way: "I usually send letters out via regular mail and fax. I still use a fax machine because I don't have everyone's email address. Directories will generally list phone and fax numbers, but not email addresses. With fax, I also get confirmation that the letter was sent and received, whereas, with email, the person may choose not to send a read-receipt when they open the message. Also, some court rules accept fax signatures in lieu of original signatures and have not been updated to include signature copies sent via email."