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21st Century Is Neat. Come Along, Healthcare.

January 25,2016

Pagers were first introduced in 1949 when they were invented by Jewish Hospital in New York City as a way to communicate with physicians. Back then the technology was seen as revolutionary. Fast forward 67 years and 90% of hospitals are still using them. That is just mind-boggling!

A Spyglass Consulting Group report pointed out the inefficiencies of antiquated paging technology:

  • Paging systems delay communication and impact clinical productivity

  • Paging systems are inadequate to support collaborative team-based care

  • The reliability of paging systems is on the decline

  • Paging systems are often not HIPAA compliant

  • Paging systems are expensive to support and maintain (1)

Dr. Fred Pelzman, Associate Professor of Medicine at New York Presbyterian Hospital wrote on his blog, Building the Patient-Centered Medical Home, how the paging process wastes time and resources.

“What does our patient need to go through to reach us now, after hours, with a clinical question or concern? They call the practice main phone number and navigate a long, contorted telephone tree (“press 1 to leave a message, press 2 for our fax number, press 3 for directions to the practice …”), and are finally connected to a live human being sitting in the basement of the hospital in the telecommunications office.

The operator takes down the patient’s name, telephone number, and other basic triage information, and lets them know that someone will call them back. They then page our practice on-call beeper which the on-call resident has signed into once we close for the day. When she gets the page, she calls the operator back, who relays the information the patient delivered. The resident then calls the patient (hopefully remembering to block caller ID first) and proceeds to find out what is going on. Really, in the 21st century, we are paying someone to sit in a room and act as an intermediary?”

So despite all of the shortcomings of pagers, why in the world are they still being used, particularly when 21st century technology exists in the form of secure text messaging? Many hospital administrators justify preventing BYOD with the following rationale:

  • Using smartphones can be prohibitively expensive for hospitals in setting up legacy smartphones with their own apps

  • Data breaches put patient information at risk, and most smartphones do not adequately encrypt patient data

  • Bad social media behavior by medical professionals on smartphones put patients at risk

  • Texting does not leave an audit trail

  • Pagers are solely used for medical messages, whereas a physician would have to sort through data on his or her smartphone to discern a message of medical value

  • Very little HIPAA risk with lack of data storage on pagers

Wrong. Like the pager itself, these justifications are also outdated. Modern technology, especially in the digital health realm, has made it possible for the use of smartphones to bridge the communication gaps between hospitals and physicians, and improve communication workflows between their staff.

For instance, with IM Your Doc secure health messaging app, it is easy to use, easy to implement and affordable, only requiring existing BYOD devices and two minutes of time in order for the app to be implemented and adopted. IM Your Doc is fully encrypted, has an audit trail, data export, and even has remote wipe to ensure full patient data security.

Medical professionals can prevent social media risks by only using an app that is encrypted and resists screenshots, does not allow pictures to be stored in the gallery and has the data stored on secure servers like IM Your Doc. They can use the app when communicating about patients following best security practices established by hospitals. They also do not have to wade through hundreds of personal texts on their smartphones to find pertinent data. Instead, they can just open the IM Your Doc app, and find the appropriate message or image rapidly.

In the end, there are no reasons to resist real-time, HIPAA compliant messaging, image and document sharing. The reluctance of health organizations to implement needed digital reforms that benefit the overall health experience for both physicians and their patients to adopt secure messaging technology needs to be put aside so healthcare can move away from pagers once and for all.

(1) Spyglass Consulting Group, “Stop Paging, Start Communicating”