Combining pager, smartphone functionalities could enhance clinical communication

The emergence of expanded Internet access, smartphones and messaging in healthcare shouldn't lead to the demise of the pager. In fact, a combined smartphone-pager system could prove to be a valuable communications tool, according to a viewpoint published in the Journal of American Medical Association (JAMA).

Smartphone-based paging applications (SPAs) could transform electronic clinical interaction using the best features of a pager and the innovative functionality of a smartphone. Together the combined technologies promise better, faster and cheaper care scenarios, write the viewpoint's authors Raman R. Khanna, M.D., Robert M. Wachter, M.D., and Michael Blum, M.D., all from the University of California, San Francisco.

The key aspect in combining the devices is not to just slap the pager's capabilities onto a smartphone, they write; rather, an SPA must be able to handle advanced tasks not provided by either device at this point.

"SPA must replicate the pager's core functions: ensuring that a clinician can receive an attention-diverting, easily read text message," they say. "However, to be effective, an SPA must also fulfill more complex tasks that depend on integration with the paging network: showing the clinician a directory of colleagues, allowing messages to be forwarded or copied to another practitioner, and ensuring that battery life, out of network issues, and silent mode settings do not lead to missed communications."

Many physician residents still view pager systems as more secure, while at the same time they say that they prefer the texting capabilities smartphones provide. Marrying the two technologies could be beneficial if this kind of thinking persists in the industry. 

The viewpoint's authors also note that SPAs could allow greater leverage of the electronic health record, and note that patients' messages could be searched and indexed and communication between clinicians regarding the same patient could be easily shared to accessed by the care team members.

However, a 2013 report found that old and outdated technologies, like pagers, could end up costing hospitals billions due to decreased productivity. 

For more information:
- read the viewpoint