Pagers + smartwatches: Hospital teams manage the right mix of mobile tools


Doctors, nurses, hospital staff and IT pros have figured out how to add new devices while keeping reliable standbys as well.

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After years of rapid change, IT leaders at hospital systems have found a good balance between adopting new communications technology and sticking with what works, according to a new survey by Spok. Spok surveyed 460 healthcare professionals in America to measure changes in mobile communications usage at hospitals.

On the downside, Wi-Fi coverage is still a challenge, and a surprising number of survey respondents don’t know what their emergency back-up plan is. 

The good news is that the majority of respondents report that the speed, ability to reach others, and information quality had either stayed the same or improved in the past year. IT teams have made significant progress on many fronts when compared to problems reported in 2016.

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Source: Spok 2019 Mobile Communications Survey

Mobile devices are fully integrated into the daily workflow at hospitals with doctors and nurses using phones and tablets to do everything from sending text messages to checking alerts to viewing test results.

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Source: Spok 2019 Mobile Communications Survey

Communication is the top use for mobile devices, but healthcare-related initiatives are also important.

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Source: Spok 2019 Mobile Communications Survey

Pagers are still important in hospitals, but mostly for staff members, not doctors and nurses. More than half of nonclinical staff—housekeepers, transport technicians, dietary staff, etc.—use pagers as their primary communication device for work. Seventy-five percent of hospitals support at least one type of pager. The breakdown is:

  • On-site pagers – 57%
  • Wide-area pagers – 40%
  • Encrypted pagers – 27%

Smartwatches are still the least supported device, but usage has gone up to 10% in 2019 compared to 4% in 2015. 

In terms of new communications technologies, hospital teams are considering secure text messaging, improving communication
between devices and the EHR, and improving Wi-Fi coverage. Among hospitals teams who don’t have secure text messaging, 57% are evaluating that service.
 
However, plans to improve patient communication are not high on the to-do list:

  • 42% had no plans to improve patient access to charts
  • 34% had no plans to improve appointment reminders or secure messaging

Now that the infrastructure for daily communications is in place, it sounds like hospitals need to focus on emergency plans. For 60% of respondents, overhead paging is the fallback plan when cellular networks are down or overloaded, followed by in-house paging. 

The real emergency is that approximately 20% of respondents did not know what their back-up plan was. Only 6% chose improving business continuity planning as the biggest opportunity.

The 460 respondents included:

  • Physicians, nurses, or other clinicians –  38% 
  • IT and telecommunications staff – 21% 
  • Executive leaders – 10% 

The rest of the respondents were IT staff, business analysts, pharmacists, and people who provided patient services.

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BackyardProduction, Getty Images/iStockphoto

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