We’d all like to believe that WiFi and cellular technologies are the most reliable way to deliver critical communications within the walls of a hospital, but sadly they aren’t. Pagers are. You read that right, pagers. This old…I mean…retro technology is in fact enjoying a renaissance as hospitals look for fast, reliable, and affordable ways for staff to communicate.
I recently sat down with Tim Tindle, Chief Information Officer & Chief Information Security Officer at Spok, to talk about pagers and hospital communications. Spok is a healthcare-focused communications company that offers an array of solutions including secure messaging, on-call scheduling, contact center and yes, pagers.
Why do hospitals still use pagers?
Spok runs the largest paging network in the US with over a million units in active use around the country. According to Tindle, one of the main reasons this technology remains in widespread use in healthcare is because of the radio frequency (RF) issues inside hospitals.
“Hospitals are tough RF environments,” said Tindle. “There is a lot of concrete, steel and even lead. If you’ve ever tried to use a cell phone in a hospital, you’ve likely encountered all sorts of dead zones. A lot of hospitals also have tunnels and other underground access areas. Paging uses a technology that penetrates facilities much better than WiFi and cellular.”
Pagers send/receive messages with VHF (very high frequency) radio signals. VHF signals reach further, need fewer transmitters and do not experience as much interference from physical obstacles like walls compared to cellular signals.
“Doctors and nurses cannot afford to miss a critical message about a patient they are taking care of,” Tindle stated. “Pagers are still the most reliable way to get a message to someone inside a facility. That’s one of the reasons why the technology is still around.”
Not just for patient care
Pagers are not just used by patient-facing clinicians. There are many hospital staff who use them. Building engineers carry pagers to be alerted to urgent maintenance issues. Cleaning staff use pagers to be notified when an ICU room needs to be disinfected (something critical in the world of COVID-19). Security teams use pagers to send out messages quickly to every member of their team. Even Pharmacists and other specialists carry them in case they are needed for a quick consult with an attending physician.
Spok + Pandemic
During this pandemic, Spok has been helping clients deploy and upgrade call/contact center technology to allow staff to work remotely rather than in a centralized office. “This is not an easy trick,” explained Tindle. “We have a lot of experience doing this so we’ve been happy to offer our expertise to clients for free.”
Spok has also been working with many clients to roll out paging infrastructure to pop-up facilities that they have had to build to accommodate the influx of COVID-19 patients. These temporary facilities means a lot of additional, temporary personnel. Pagers provide a low-cost way to reach all those new people with the right messages quickly
Tindle has a lot of experience with pop-up facilities. As a former CIO at Harris Health System in Texas, he had to deal with the aftermath of multiple hurricanes which required his team to set up temporary healthcare facilities in the affected communities. He knows first-hand how important it is for those facilities to have well-functioning communication infrastructure.
A System of Action
There is a lot of valuable information locked inside EHRs that has real-time value to patients and their care teams. Unfortunately, the only way to access that information is for the doctor or nurse to log in and look at a patient’s record. Spok wants to unlock that information and make it actionable. Their new cloud-based SaaS platform, Spok Go, aims to do just that.
“The electronic health record is the system of record for patients and doctors,” said Tindle. “The Spok Go Platform is going to be the system of action.”
Built from the ground up on Amazon Web Services, the Spok Go Platform is a cloud-native solution that intelligently routes messages, alerts, and information from the EHR to the appropriate members of a patient’s care team. What triggers a message and how that message is delivered is configurable, giving Spok clients complete control over how to best integrate the platform into their existing workflows.
Early feedback from clients has been positive.
Don’t expect pagers to go away any time soon. “We haven’t stopped innovation when it comes to pagers,” Tindle shared. He even hinted at a “next gen pager solution that’s going to surprise people.” Perhaps these improvements will make pagers move from simply being retro, to being retro-cool.
Watch the full interview with Tindle to learn more about:
- How taking communications beyond traditional hospital “walls” requires new ways of thinking
- The challenges of adapting to work-at-home
- Why adopting something completely new during a crisis might not be the best option
To learn more about Spok, visit their website at https://www.spok.com/
This article is part of the #HealthIT100in100