The COVID-19 crisis has pushed hospitals and some doctors to quickly adopt digital technologies like telemedicine but many physicians and laboratories sill use one piece of old-fashion tech: Fax machines.

At the annual Identity North conference on Thursday the chief executive officer of Canada Health Infoway, the government-funded agency that pushes digital technologies, urged a solution: Ban faxes.

“We would love to see regulation to outlaw the fax as a secure method of communication, and to ensure all physicians have secure email,” Michael Green said during an online panel discussion on digital health. “There are enablers we should advise policymakers to follow to make this [digital transformation] successful.”

It’s ironic that fax machines are still around in medical practices. Green noted that 90 per cent of family physicians have abandoned paper and moved to electronic medical records (EMR) systems. But some health providers insist on transmitting documents by fax although dialling wrong fax numbers is a leading cause of data breaches.

Canada’s fragmented medical system, where jurisdiction over health care is split between the federal, provincial and territorial governments doesn’t help with the speedy adoption of new technologies, he added. There are still some barriers to adopting technology that needs to be erased, he said, such as allowing physicians to charge for videoconferencing with patients. It would also help if provinces and hospitals could streamline their procurement procedures so entrepreneurs could bring medical solutions to market faster.

Another potential barrier is that many provinces have their own privacy and security laws or regulations, Green added.

In addition, he said physicians still believe they own patients’ medical records. “One of the possible changes is put the patients in control of their data,” he said. “Give them consent, give them access to their data so they can choose to share it with other physicians or family member.”

However, he acknowledged the crisis has given a “giant nudge” to all governments to help the medical sector modernize. For example, in May Ottawa announced $240 million in new spending to encourage the development and purchase of digital health tools. Some provinces have eased re-reimbursement for the use of telemedicine.

“The challenge,” Green said, “is to make sure the short term measures are sustained going forward.”

Panellist Anna Chif, co-founder of Montreal-based Dialogue Technologies, which offers organizations a telemedicine service for employees, hopes that governments will try before making decisions to hear from service providers who have experience in the public and private sector.

One of the biggest barriers to the adoption of digital health services is different standards for enrolling users logins, said Andre Boysen, chief identity officer of Toronto-based Securekey Technologies, which sells identity and authentication solutions. “Today every service delivery organization across the planet is on the ‘Do it yourself plan.'”

Digital identity issuance is well developed, he said, but still not complete. “We have more to do to solve inclusion … The big challenge is to get online service destinations to offer more choices for registration.”

All three panellists opposed digital health providers re-selling their data to third parties.