Hospital Switching from Pagers to Smartphones: One CIO’s Experience

Emory University Hospital is in the midst of three year movement to switch approximately 6,000 pagers used by medical staff at the hospital to cell phones. The article, Inside a Smartphone Rollout With Life and Death Consequences, is an interesting look at what a hospital CIO needs to consider when switching from a pager system to smartphones. 

Now that doctors are really beginning to snatch up smartphones and using them in their daily practice to answer questions there are a whole host of other issues that must be addressed and the article specifically mentions three:

  1. Reliability- of the device and of the person using the device. Interesting thing to consider, pagers are often worn outside of clothing, smartphones (probably because they are bigger than a pager) are often in pockets and purses and left on desks.  The pager is easily heard, the smartphone (depending on its location) not so much. 
  2. Can you hear me now? – Coverage, coverage, coverage.  Multi carrier coverage is a big problem as well as building challenges (we have all found that dead cell zone in our hospital and it isn’t always the basement). 
  3. Fragile – Granted a pager probably won’t work if it accidentally falls in the toilet, but drop it down a flight of stairs and it has a fair shot of still working.  Try that with a smartphone and some would shatter on the first step of the stairs.  In addition to owner created hazards, smartphones have more software and have more “parts” that can “break” with the latest software upgrade. 

These three things are definitely issues that must be addressed if a system is to move off the pager and on to the smartphone.  However, one thing to note is these issues are just dealing with the practical issues of paging doctors through their smartphone.  The whole reason doctors and other healthcare professionals want and use smartphones is that they can use them for so much more than paging.  A hospital begins to run into far bigger obstacles when they must address EMR and smartphone accessibility, patient/doctor notes on smartphones, and what happens if somebody loses the phone. 

Still it is an interesting quick read article, it would be interesting if we could hear more about Emory University Hospital’s transition and the unexpected positives negatives they encountered in their move.

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