Technology pundits have long predicted the demise of pagers. And yet, many first responders and hospitals in the U.S. continue to rely on them.

Why is that?

The answer is simple. Pagers work beautifully as a component of today’s multi-faceted approach to secure communication, enabling efficient, well-coordinated responses in critical situations.  

Why first responders and hospitals still value pagers

Pagers and paging systems are designed to send important messages quickly, reliably, and cost-effectively to users. They are not intended to meet all of an organization’s communication needs. They are simply one of many device options that range from smartphone messaging/collaboration applications to overhead paging. Here’s why pagers are important today:

1. Nothing beats a pager when it comes to reliability

Many people don’t know that wide-area paging runs on a completely different, more resilient network than SMS or cellular. The paging network transmits messages using much higher power and from multiple simultaneous transmitter sites resulting in better signal penetration into commercial buildings including hospitals which are notoriously difficult structures to reliably penetrate, hence the spotty or unreliable coverage from cellular and Wi-Fi networks. So why do medical personnel still use pagers? Because messages to medical staff and first responders can mean the difference between life or death, and pages get through!

2. Pagers support flexible, role-based communication in hospitals

Care teams involve many different roles, from physicians and nurses to transport personnel and environmental services staff. Device flexibility is key to meeting everyone’s needs while securing communication. Each option — from smartphones and in-building Wi-Fi phones to pagers and overhead announcements — has advantages and disadvantages depending on the hospital’s needs.

For some users, a pager is the perfect communication tool. For others, a full smartphone solution with a clinical collaboration platform backend is needed. In some cases, clinicians may even want alerts sent simultaneously to a pager and a smartphone. Hospitals need to have the flexibility to incorporate the best device for each staff role. For this reason, many healthcare systems today integrate pagers into their workflows and secure communications along with smartphones. 

In fact, to be truly effective, critical communication necessitates the ability to send various staff members a single message and have it received on whichever mobile device each person carries. A comprehensive clinical collaboration software platform for hospitals makes this possible, enabling messages to reach the right person at the right time on the right device. The device is simply the endpoint, with the intelligent capabilities coming from the software platform that incorporates the logic, directory details, and on-call information required. At the end of the day, the workflows should define the communication approach and devices, not the other way around.

3. Pagers support HIPAA-compliant communication

Encrypted pagers provide secure, reliable communication. This means protected health information (PHI) can be shared among staff on pagers and smartphones seamlessly to meet industry guidelines for exchanging sensitive and critical information.

4. Pagers support two-way conversations

When paging technology was first implemented, a person using a numeric pager would have to find a phone to call in and hear a voice message or to call someone back. Not today. One-way and two-way pagers can receive full-text, HIPAA-compliant encrypted messages. With this capability and the fact that two-way pagers can reply to and forward messages, a call-back is not typically needed.

5. Pagers are cost effective

Buying or replacing smartphones is costly, as is paying for or reimbursing employees for their wireless plan. By contrast, pagers are far less expensive and can be easily replaced. Nothing comes close to paging from a cost-effectiveness perspective.

The fact is that paging is simple, reliable technology. Its value remains high for critical messaging. That’s why many of the leading names in healthcare and most first responders continue to leverage pagers for both everyday care coordination and as a component of their business continuity/disaster recovery plans.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Tim Tindle

With more than 35 years of information technology experience, Tim Tindle joined Spok as chief information officer in 2019 from Harris Health System, a $1.5 billion-dollar integrated delivery system. At Harris Health System he served as the CIO and led the enterprise IT strategy. During his tenure at Harris Health System, Tindle implemented a broad range of clinical and business technology solutions to transform the organization into an integrated health system, coordinating care across all Harris Health locations and care settings. Instrumental in this transformation were Spok software and paging solutions. Prior to joining Harris Health System, Tindle served as president of ANATEC Information Services (acquired by NORRELL Information Services in 1996), where he provided large enterprise systems software design and development for Fortune 1000 companies and government agencies in the U.S. and Canada. He also held executive roles at Compaq Computer Corporation and was part of the team that developed the company’s original portable computer.

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