Hospital technology is constantly advancing. Health records are being digitized, Telehealth tools are emerging, and equipment is changing in order for procedures to become less invasive.

So why, amongst all of this progress, has one archaic device remained?

It seems a bit strange that in the age of the smartphone, pagers would still be the go-to method of communication in hospital settings. Yet, in the U.S. alone, it’s estimated that about 90% of hospitals continue to use pagers in their institutions (despite the fact that the devices date back to 1950).

Dead zones (for service)

In the U.S. alone, it’s estimated that about 90% of hospitals continue to use pagers in their institutions.

No, it’s not that hospitals are simply stuck in the 90s. There are a few important reasons that beepers have stuck around, one of those being that hospitals are often a dead-zone for cell service.

This isn’t on accident: Jarret Patton, MD, FAAP, founder of DoctorJarret told Reader’s Digest that the walls in some areas of a hospital are built in order to keep X-rays from penetrating them, and it’s those heavy-duty designs that also block cellphone signals. Pagers, however, have the frequency to surpass those walls.

Massive group messaging

Further, Shoshana Ungerleider, MD, an internist at California Pacific Medical Center told RD that, specifically during emergencies when hospital staff might need to reach hundreds of people at one time, massive group texts wouldn’t be efficient. Pagers, on the other hand, send out signals to hundreds of people with ease.

Long-lasting (battery) life

Trusty beepers also have great battery lives, which is more than most people can say for their iPhones.

Pagers only need to be charged about every two weeks: A device that is reliable in this way is important for doctors who are often so busy that they wouldn’t have time for a cellphone to be continuously dying.

Security

Plus, with cellphones, security breaches could happen and confidential information could land in the wrong hands. Beepers are simple one-way systems that don’t allow for this kind of violation.

Finally, according to Medical Director, pagers operate on a system that works even during distorters and power outages. This degree of reliability is imperative in the healthcare setting.

Are beepers here to stay?

“A pager still offers benefits that have yet to be replicated by more modern forms of communication.”
Allison Bond
former internal medicine resident, Massachusetts General Hospital

Pagers will likely be sticking around, at least for a while. “A pager still offers benefits that have yet to be replicated by more modern forms of communication,” Allison Bond, a former resident internal medicine physician at Massachusetts General Hospital reported for Slate.

According to Bond, Even if a hospital administrator has the spontaneous motivation to upgrade its doctors’ method of communication, the cost can be a barrier.

For example, in 2012, a hospital in Manhattan paid between $10,000 and $20,000 to pilot a mere 16 smart phones.

With that price tag, the obtrusive blare of the beeper will probably be a hospital norm for years to come.

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