Why the pager remains a viable and trusted tool for providers

Despite the emergence of new digital health communications tools and technologies, the pager remains not only a viable and valuable device for healthcare providers, but also offers evidence of what devices must provide to be successful in the care and treatment scenario.

Pagers, which have been hanging off belts and lab jackets for over five decades, remain a steadfast tool, writes Dr. John Torous, a psychiatry fellow and editor-in-chief of JMIR Mental Health, in a recent article published to KevinMD.com. He points to three reasons for the pager's continued dominance:

  1. Ease of use
  2. Reliability
  3. They don't aim to disrupt interaction between care team members or the physician-patient connection

"Because they are so simple, it is easy to use almost any type of pager on almost any network," Torous writes. "Hospitals may have different policies about when to use a pager, but the core technical functionality and use remains nearly the same anywhere in the world."

He notes the near opposite comes into play with smartphones and apps--which he deems as too complex and difficult for both users and providers.

A recent commentary published in the Journal of the American Medical Association declares expanding Internet access, smartphones and messaging shouldn't lead to the demise of the pager. In fact, say Robert Wachter and Raman Khanna of the University of California, San Francisco, a combined smartphone-pager system could prove to be a valuable communications tool. The authors believe smartphone-based paging applications could transform electronic clinical interaction and the combined technologies promise better, faster and cheaper care scenarios.

While Torous touts the pager's dependability, low power requirements and simple functionality as key reasons for continued use, he doesn't ignore the digital health advancements on the horizon.

"Mobile technologies like smartphone apps and wearables hold tremendous potential for healthcare--but can benefit from looking at the success of older connected technologies," he says. "Healthcare apps will continue to evolve--perhaps one day even replacing papers--but, for now, pagers still remain health care's most utilized mobile technology."

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