Health and disability sector organisations are being asked to move from using fax machines to modern and more secure methods of communication.
Analogue faxes use standard phone lines to send and receive messages. While they have been widely used within the sector for many years, there are now better options for sending secure communications.
The Ministry of Health and ACC published guidance on secure digital communications in June 2019 following advice from telecommunications network providers that they would soon stop supporting analogue faxing.
A number of sector agencies have already made the move away from faxes. In November 2020, the Ministry wrote to health sector Chief Executives and Chief Information Officers to remind agencies which have yet to migrate from analogue fixes that they will need to act soon.
The Ministry has offered support for the transition, including plans to release more advice and guidelines for replacement technologies. For more information please contact us on [email protected].
Why do sector agencies need to migrate from analogue faxes?
Analogue faxes use communication protocols which are easier to intercept than digital communication protocols. Digital protocols are able to encrypt data securely using stronger cryptography.
With a fax, there is also a chance that a message will be sent to the wrong person or that sensitive information might be left on an unattended fax machine.
Information transferred digitally provides patient information that is quicker and easier for clinicians to access when needed.
The Ministry appreciates that analogue faxing has been a very useful tool for the sector but better tools are now available that will provide the security all sector organisations require and expect when dealing with personal health information.
What are the alternatives?
Patient and provider portals (preferred)
Secure portals (or websites) can be used to securely share patient information between health providers. Portals can also be used to update information.
Data exchange automation (to replace fax transfers)
Data exchange automation uses secure point-to-point digital technology that’s now widely available. Using Application Programming Interfaces (APIs), developers can send and receive faxes using a range of methods, including APIs standards (such as REST, SOAP, HTTP, .NET, SMTP), on-premise Windows Service software or FTP/S.
One example involves physical forms or ID documents that have been delivered by post (or faxed). These are now available online as authenticated forms.
Digital workflow solutions
A number of clinical and business systems have secure messaging services built in – for example, systems used for electronic ordering or patient referrals – and these can be used to replace faxing.
Third party services
Some third party digital post services are able to send documents securely to email addresses.
If you cannot move to one of these options in the short-term, there is an interim solution below that you can use during the transition to a long-term solution.
What’s the deadline?
Telecommunications network provider Spark has advised that it will stop supporting analogue faxing due to the outdated telephony technology.
Spark is in the process of gradually decommissioning its Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN) services throughout the country, and expects this to be fully completed sometime in 2022. The PSTN is a network of switches that connects calls from one person to another over copper lines. It’s a very old system that was built back in the 1980s and the components needed to keep the platform operating are no longer manufactured.
Other telecommunications providers liaise with Spark as needed and will manage their own communications and notice periods with their customers, to align with the exit date set by Spark.
Read more about the retirement of fax technology on the Spark website.
Follow these steps for an interim solution to replace fax with email while you transition to longer-term digital tools.
- Identify or establish replacement email addresses for all of your organisation’s fax numbers and primary recipients (for example, shared mailboxes for departmental faxes, or establish auto-email-to-print addresses on multi-function-devices).
- Collate a list of all fax numbers that your organisation recently received faxes from.
- Communicate the replacement email addresses to all organisations that are faxing you.
- (Also recommended) Confirm emails from these organisations are being received using opportunistic TLS.
- (After a brief period of operating per above) Redirect all inbound fax numbers to a central bureau or fax-to-email solution. Then have the bureau contact all sending organisations to request they email instead.
- Collate a list of all fax numbers that your organisation recently sent faxes to.
- Contact the sending organisations and request alternative email addresses.
- Publish this list internally and promote emailing attachments directly (this also saves on printing and paper).
- Visit all fax machines, delete all stored fax numbers and replace them with scan-to-email addresses (communicate this change to all users).
- (Also recommended) confirm email sent to the external organisations’ domain is delivered using opportunistic TLS.