Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Is there still a place for fax machines?

I sent a fax today - the first in many many years.

Long ago I used fax a lot. I had a modem and a computer and that allowed me to easily sent faxes to companies if I needed to, and as most companies had a fax machine, that is how I communicated, especially when I had a complaint. At the time, the idea of an individual having a fax seemed rare. I even had a system to do big sideways banners on fax rolls to get their attention if they ignored me. It was the twitter of the day :-)

But fax has died down, just as telex did. A handful of people still have fax machines and probably don't really know why they even keep them. We (A&A) stopped using fax or quoting fax numbers a long time ago when the last mult-function scanner/printer/fax we had broke. I expected never to use a fax again.

Well, as my blogs and tweets have suggested, I have been trying to get to see my GP for over a week. Nothing too serious but seems to be a reaction to medication, and getting worse. An ideal GP thing, as, a week or two ago I could have booked an appointment many days in advance when convenient. Not an emergency, etc. All very civilised.

Problem is that :-
  • Surgery number is always busy or a massive queue. I went to NHS drop-in centre and they said to see my GP but gave up after trying to get through themselves for 10 minutes so saw me grudgingly.
  • patient.co.uk on-line system states that there are no appointments. So I assumed it was not even worth calling again. It did not say "call for appointments" or anything like that, which seems now to be the case, it simply said that there are none.
  • patient.co.uk has a message to GP feature, but after 8 days my messages have not been read/replied.
  • The surgery has an email address, but after three days I have no reply.
Now, after a couple of weeks of this, and with the medication from the drop-in centre finally running out with no sign of fixing this problem, it has become an emergency appointment situation.

So, what did I do? I faxed the surgery. Within minutes I got a call from the manager there. A bit apologetic but ultimately helpful booking an appointment for today! Later I got a call from the receptionist also trying to sort me an appointment! As if by magic the fax just works. I will probably try that as my first course of action next time I need an appointment...

I had to actually visit one of the neighbouring companies who have a fax machine lurking in their back office!

So, yes, there is life in fax still :-)

P.S. I have written in asking why the on-line appointment booking lies, and why it does not work, why the message to GP thing does not work, and why it does not even list my appointments that I have made properly. Hopefully I'll get an answer and maybe they will fix it.

Update: Had a meeting - they have fixed several of the problems and told off staff that made mistakes. The only one they are stuck on is the wording of the appointments which should say none available to book on-line, and not just that none are available. So, progress. Even so - next time - I fax!

P.S. Not a reaction to medication but on some suitable meds now and all sorted.


  1. Wow, you have more trouble booking an appointment with your GP than I do. I didn't think that was possible.

    Think of Fax as a Non Maskable Interrupt. The machine spits a piece of paper out, it's much harder to ignore than electronic communications.

  2. The NHS is huge on fax. When you see the garbage they get issued instead of computers and networks it's entirely understandable. But it's the only organisation I know that still uses the things to any extent.

    Ah, back when I was an admin on the UK side of tpc.int...

  3. If you can help me to get fax working over A&A SIP with nothing more than Linux-based software, I'll be pleased. Meanwhile I'll keep trying.

    1. We used to have a (and we only downloaded the source and compiled it) a Fax modem plugin for Asterisk. Hopefully you can find it with a google. Unfortunately I can't remember what it was called , but it was a while ago before Asterisk mainline had any fax support.

      I also can't remember if we tried it over SIP but as long as you don't use a 'lossy' codec it should be fine bandwidth permitting.

      Due the the customer's other infrastructure it spoke to "Microsoft Fax" rather than hylafax

    2. Apparently faxes are very picky about VoIP - the tiny little fluctuations we don't notice in a voice call due to jitter etc can screw up the datastream. I'd expect error correction to catch that and compensate, but of course faxes are very old crude technology (do they all even support error correction?)

      At some point, I have a vague plan to get fax/tone detection working on my Asterisk setup.

      Come to think of it, I could try it in my anti-spam setup: route anonymous callers to a "fax machine". Hopefully there are enough fax machines around that spammers will flag fax lines as bad things to call and give up...

  4. We're still using faxes in the Heating Spares industry, purchase orders flying back and forth.
    Though I'm trying to convert them all into MFP devices, that do email, which is a little more eco-friendly for us, less hardware lying round, and easier to scan to email :)

  5. I once had to deal with an NHS funding body who kept losing my disabled students' report. I got the fax number of someone important and sent a stroppy letter on headed paper. Within 12 hours my student's problem was 100% sorted...

    I'm often appalled by how crap some GPs are for booking appointments. Ours has 75% appointments in advance (2 days to 2 weeks) and 25% on the day. They answer their phone (even to relay calls from deaf ppl like me) and they have now got online appointment booking which works. And I live very close so I can go and book in person too. Hope you get a sensible response to your very reasonable complaint, it might be that the frontline staff agree but can't do anything until someone is willing and makes a complaint...

  6. The NHS require all GP practices to offer online appointment booking by March (or is it April ?) 2015.
    The cynic in me presumes that, as you can't get a non-emergency appointment for weeks with my GP, it will always show "no online appointments available".

    1. Hmm, if I authenticate with AIM I get that horrid opaque ID. Sorry.