“Please do not send letters, documents or messages via fax” – Dr Oliver Frank

29 March 2019: This Adelaide-based GP and columnist is taking a stand against outdated messaging technologies.

Medical Observer readers are by now likely familiar with Dr Oliver Frank’s columns – 25 at last count – that delve into the nuances of GP practice software, and make pointed suggestions about how those systems can be improved. The Adelaide-based GP, academic, and recent long serving member of the RACGP Expert Committee on eHealth and Practice Systems is passionate about the benefits of digital health, and isn’t afraid to speak his mind.

Dr Oliver Frank

Dr Oliver Frank MBBS PhD FRACGP FACHI

This forthright and forward-looking attitude also extends to his clinical practice, where he has taken a stand against the use of archaic paper records and fax machines by requesting that other clinicians only use secure clinical messaging or telephone to reach him. The letterhead used by his practice makes this stand crystal clear.

letterhead Dr Frank's general practice letterhead

We wanted to know more, so we called him to find out.

#Share: How long have you been refusing faxes at your practice, and what motivated you to take this stand?

My letterhead has featured a request to use secure messaging for at least a couple of years. Over time, I’ve gradually made that request stronger and stronger each time I update my letterhead.

Our clinic already runs a fully electronic clinical and administrative records system, so we don’t write on paper except when other people require us to. We don’t keep any paper records, and we don’t want anyone else sending us paper documents or faxes.

Faxed images are particularly crazy. The image quality is already degraded by the fax, and then it gets scanned into a digital system for storage, further degrading the quality. And the irony is that these images are often produced by digital systems in the first place! The whole exercise is a terrible waste of time and effort, as well as giving you poor quality legibility.

#Share: How have your colleagues reacted to your stance?

I’ve had some support in various quarters and had a little bit of resistance from other practitioners, I’ve taken this action as a solo GP, practising in association with others.

Some still favour faxes because they’re universally available and interoperable, whereas secure clinical messaging is still not as easy to use as we wish, in terms of interoperability and other factors. So I can understand why they feel that way.

But my argument is that we need to draw the line somewhere, and that’s what my letterhead does. So long as we continue to put fax numbers in our letterhead, it’s too easy to continue working that way. Standard unencrypted email is not acceptable from a privacy point of view. Even a posted letter is preferable to a fax, because at least we get the original that way, but that’s not really what we want to achieve.