Study: Text messaging via pager lacks clarity, raising quality care concerns

doc texting
Researchers say text paging is often unclear, but cell phone texting still faces several hurdles.

Long extinct in virtually every other industry, pagers are still a common tool in hospitals.

Despite the outdated technology’s popularity, it may not offer the best method of communication between providers. That’s according to study published this week in JAMA Internal Medicine, which found that texting via page lacked clarity, introducing the potential for patient safety complications.  

Researchers at the University of California, San Francisco and the Oregon Health and Science University analyzed nearly 600 messages, most of which were sent by nurses to physicians. They found the majority of messages lacked standardization or language that might indicate a sense of urgency.

“Some text pages lack clarity and thus could undermine patient safety,” the researchers wrote. “Unclear messages have the potential to adversely affect the quality of inpatient care.”


The authors recommended hospitals use interventions similar to patient handoffs to improve paging practices and train clinicians on best practices for communicating via pager.

A 2016 survey conducted by HIMSS Analytics and sponsored by TigerText found that 90% of healthcare organizations still use pagers, which cost an average of $180,000 annually. Physicians are fond of pagers because they are low maintenance and they have better service compared to cell phones.

Although more hospitals are exploring ways to integrate cell phone text messaging, several hurdles still remain. Most notably, The Joint Commission bans text messaging to order treatments, and security experts have raised concerns about transmitting unencrypted information. Others have said network latency continues to be a significant barrier to secure texting, noting that delays could lead to patient harm.