Survey surprise: Pagers are lifesavers in hospitals

Smartphone use continues to grow, but a lack of cellular infrastructure keeps the tested technology of the ‘beeper’ a go-to device for medical professionals.


In health care, the pager still saves lives.

Although mobile technology has evolved at blinding speed, hospital communications have lagged. According to a new study from the mobile tech company Spok, smartphone use is increasing, but some old habits die hard.

In the study, non-clinical staff report a preference for pagers (48 percent) over other devices, and only 77 percent of respondents say their hospital even supports smartphone use.

The study surveyed more than 300 health care professionals nationwide, highlighting impediments to universal mobile upgrades. The exciting possibilities provided by new technology may be tempting, but without a robust infrastructure, the report warns, use patterns are unlikely to change.

Spok’s report reveals that although smartphone use has increased, there is no standard mobile device across the medical industry.

Spok writes:

[Seventy-seven] percent of respondents report that their hospital supports [smartphones]. Wide-area pagers are gradually declining but are still used by 50 percent of respondents. And then there are the other devices that show a mixed trajectory.

Though smartphones are ubiquitous outside hospitals, internal communications systems seem less likely to be overhauled to accommodate them. Spok’s report identified that smartphones are not the most common nor preferred communication tool in the industry.

User preferences varied depending on individual communication needs and existing institutional support.

Spok writes:

We know from working with our customers that smartphones are not the preferred device for all staff. In order to quantify our observations, this year we specifically asked respondents about the primary devices used by non-clinical staff. In-house pagers dominate as the device of choice for these roles (48 percent), smartphones rank second (40 percent), and Wi-Fi phones came in third (30 percent). This corroborates what we see and hear at hospitals.

The preference for in-house pagers could well be driven by infrastructure and connectivity. The report suggests that Wi-Fi and cellular service, though improving, continue to impede mobile use inside hospitals.

Spok writes:

When asked if there are areas of poor network coverage in their hospital, healthcare professionals reported that gaps in Wi-Fi coverage have moved from 65 to 49 percent, while reported holes in cellular coverage have dropped from 75 to 59 percent. There is still a lot of room for improvement, but this shift demonstrates that hospitals are making progress in correcting these hurdles that interrupt mobile communications.

The survey asked respondents what they saw as the big opportunities for better communication and mobile communications solutions. The most-common responses were:

  • Uniformity and fewer fragmented systems
  • Getting all faculty and staff at a hospital to use the same communications platform
  • Being able to identify who is on a patient’s team when you need to contact them
  • Communication survival during weather and possible terrorist events that disrupt the cellular network

Read more from the report here.

Communicators, what devices do you use within your health care facility or organization?

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