Physicians were among the first to use paging technology, introduced to doctors in New York City way back in 1950, but they are among the last to abandon the devices.
Many doctors rely on pages as an important communication tool more than they do cell phones, writes Allison Bond, M.D., a resident physician in internal medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, in a recent article on Slate.com.
While the device may seem like a relic of the past, physicians often use them because they are low maintenance, says Bond. They run on batteries that don't need changing more than once every few weeks and they work during a disaster or power outage.
Pages are also reliable because their networks have more broadcast power than those for cell phones, so signals are better at penetrating buildings to reach physicians while deep in the bowels of hospitals, she says. They also rely on satellites so even if one pager tower stops working, another can pick up the signal. And pager systems make it easy to send group messages almost instantaneously to alert a team of medical personnel to a patient emergency, according to Bond
The big disadvantage is the time and effort it takes to respond to a page, such as finding a landline phone, dialing a number and waiting for someone to pick up the call, she says.
Bond isn't the only physician to comment on the pager remaining a trusted tool. John Torous, M.D. a psychiatry fellow, recently wrote about pagers ease of use and reliability. "Because they are so simple, it is easy to use almost any type of pager on almost any network," Torous wrote. "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." The same can't be said for smart phones, Tourous said.
However, that may be changing. Pagers and other outdated communication technologies cost hospitals both time and money, with a Ponemon Institute report estimating a cost of $8.3 million per year for U.S. hospitals. Hospitals are beginning to explore new approaches, Bond notes, including a cell phone app that ensures secure text messaging and special cellphones that have extra security to ensure patient privacy. An article on JAMA Network concurs. Its authors say while most healthcare practitioners still use pagers, there's an increasing interest in smartphone-based communications.