The Fax of Life

Sarah Kliff | Vox | October 30, 2017

It’s 2017. Why does American medicine still run on fax machines?

When you walk into the Arlington Women’s Center, you see a spacious waiting room with artwork on the wall, maroon chairs, and a friendly receptionist sitting at the front desk. The obstetrics and gynecology practice serves a high-income suburb of Washington, DC. Framed photographs on the wall advertise the center’s physicians who’ve made lists of the city’s best doctors. It’s a modern, upscale doctor office. But when it needs to share patient records, it turns to an outdated technology: the fax machine.

“The pages get jammed up so you end up with half-pages that come out at the other end,” says Amanda Rohn, an OB-GYN at Arlington Women’s Center, “or you get blank pages that don’t actually have the information you need." The clinic has digitized its own patient data. But its electronic system can’t connect with other clinics’ records. So when doctors want to retrieve records from another office — an ultrasound for a pregnant patient, for example — they have to turn to the fax.

Most women at the Arlington Women’s Center get their ultrasounds at a radiology office that is in the same building, just a floor below. It also has a digital record. But the two systems don’t connect. So they use a Rube Goldberg-esque analog method for sharing data: Print out pages of one record, fax it, and then scan those pages into the other digital system...