10 November 2017
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Q. Is it safe to send referrals via fax?

Faxes are insecure and unsafe and GPs should not be using them. Healthcare is the only business in Ireland that still uses fax machines. Everywhere else they are obsolete.

The HSE issued a patient safety alert in relation to use of faxes in August 2017: "The case related to the delayed referral of a baby from a maternity unit in one hospital to an orthopaedic service in another hospital. The referral related to hip x-ray of the baby arising from a family history of congenital hip dysplasia. A fax was used as the means of sending the referral. The maternity unit held that the fax was sent but the receiving hospital could not find evidence that the referral was received. The failure was identified following the parents' attendance at a seven-month check with the public health nurse. The x-ray when performed confirmed a diagnosis of hip dysplasia and treatment was commenced."

GPs who need to refer to hospital services should use electronic referrals. These provide a built-in acknowledgement and response mechanism. For GPs that don't have a practice software system, eReferrals is available using Healthlink online and a web browser.

Where GPs need to communicate additional patient identifiable clinical information they should use Healthmail, secure clinical email. Healthmail can be used to send images and attached documents. Again, Healthmail allows GPs to request a delivery receipt and a read receipt (see also, Healthlink, Healthmail, and eReferrals).

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