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

How a plan to kill the fax machine with policy went awry.

Avigail Chicas Lucero operates the fax machine at Mary’s Center.
Byrd Pinkerton/Vox

In most offices, fax machines are like the floppy disk or the CD player: obsolete. To find one, you need to go to a museum or a scrapyard ... or a hospital.

Why are fax machines still such a staple of American health care?

On this episode of The Impact, we talk to a pair of policymakers who hatched a plan to drag hospitals and doctors' offices into the 21st century — to replace paper files and fax machines with electronic records and email.

We explain why that plan backfired, turning the fax into the mechanical cockroach of American medicine, the seemingly immortal machine that doctors, nurses, and patients all hate, but can't quite stomp out.

And we go to clinics to find out why the fax’s continued use isn't just annoying for clinicians — it can also be harmful for patient health.

For even more fax policy content, check out Sarah’s piece about the survival of the fax machine.

For more of The Impact, subscribe on your favorite podcast app. Please leave us a rating and review! Or you can email us your feedback at

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