News Feature | April 11, 2016

Outmoded Pager Technology Is Sapping HIT Budgets

Christine Kern

By Christine Kern, contributing writer

HTO Calculator And Money

Report reveals “The Hidden Cost of Pagers in Healthcare.”

According to a Tiger Text study, hospitals currently overpay by approximately 45 percent for antiquated paging technology, costing valuable time and resources. The report was based on research from HIMSS Analytics and other industry data, which surveyed 200 hospitals. Of those hospitals, 90 percent reported they are still using pagers with an average spend of $180,000 annually.

“This research uncovered that a significant number of hospitals still rely on pagers as a cost of doing business,” explained Bryan Fiekers, Director, Advisory Services Group for HIMSS Analytics. “‘Legacy technology’ can be difficult to replace despite that more advanced technology is available.”

The HIMSS Analytics research found the average paging service cost per device was $9.19 per month, compared to industry research showing the cost of secure messaging app alternatives to be less than $5 per month.

And this should not be startling news. A Ponemon Institute report found pagers cost U.S. hospitals $8.3 billion in 2013, including $3.2 billion through time-consuming discharge processes and another $5.1 billion while clinicians waited for patient information. And while nurses have been eager to adopt new, more efficient alternatives for years, hospitals have been dragging their feet, according to Information Week.

Aside from the actual cost of maintaining pager communication, the study also revealed significant “soft costs” from their continued use, including:

  • The lack of two-way communication;
  • the lack of full context for information and the lack of an option to provide feedback or ask questions, costing precious moments in patient care management decisions;
  • communication gaps caused by the inability to update contact directories or on-call schedules, which are critical elements to the physician contact system;
  • the inconvenience of having to carry and manage multiple devices; and
  • the limitations of operation on a single network, as compared with smartphones which communicate across multiple networks.

According to one CIO at a leading university hospital who participated in the study, “Nothing would make me happier than to move away from pagers. At one time, pagers were more convenient, before people had their cell phones on them all the time; however, there are significant challenges with not using updated technology, such as not having a centralized directory, contacts, and call schedules. I think people are going to be happy to shed a device and instead walk around with a device that is theirs and that they already rely upon every day. I think we are in a transition state.”

All executives polled agreed that “migrating to smartphones and managing just one device would be substantially more convenient for all involved.” The study also postulates that, while executives realize the benefits of transitioning away from legacy paging infrastructures, they continue to allocate budgets for paging services because pagers are ingrained in the fabric of medical cultures.

One IT executive from a large Minnesota-based hospital said, “Pagers have been weaved into operations. One physician said he has had the same number for 19 years. The people he works with, and his wife, they all have it memorized.”

But pager use is declining by 11 percent a year, pointing to a future without them. Brad Brooks, CEO and co-founder of TigerText, said, “This survey illuminates why the healthcare industry should leave their pagers behind. We now know paging technology is not only a hindrance to sharing data and collaborating around a patient’s case, but also extremely costly to hospitals.”