First they came for the fax machines….now NHS is coming for the pagers

Bloop, Bleep. The NHS has officially announced the phasing out of pagers in hospitals by the end of 2021, with all hospitals required to have their plans and infrastructure in place by September 2020. Replacing pagers will be mobile phones, and smartphones with health communication apps, which facilitate two-way communications and coverage.

According to Digital Health, the pager-less pilot was at West Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust (WSFT), which is one of the Global Digital Exemplar (GDE) sites. The 2017 test resulted in junior doctors saving 48 minutes per shift and nurses 21 minutes on average. The platform  used was Medic Bleep, which integrates audio, text, image and file sharing on web, iOS, and Android. 

NHS is estimated to use about 10 percent of all pagers in use worldwide. The cost, according to this report in Bloomberg, is also stunning. Its 130,000 pagers cost £6.6 million ($8.6 million). A single device can cost as much as £400 pounds, which came as a great surprise to this Editor. Only one UK company, Capita Plc’s PageOne, even supports pagers. So this ‘War On Pagers’ as Digital Health dubs it, has some rationale. Supposedly, the NHS can keep some pagers for emergencies, when Wi-Fi fails or when other forms of communication are unavailable, but even that is doubtful as PageOne will likely go out of the pager business by then.

Mr. Hancock is quoted extensively in both reports. “We have to get the basics right, like having computers that work and getting rid of archaic technology like pagers and fax machines. Email and mobile phones are a more secure, quicker and cheaper way to communicate which allow doctors and nurses to spend more time caring for patients rather than having to work round outdated kit.”

In the US, pagers have largely been replaced by smartphones with advanced communication and file sharing/monitoring except in one specialty–psychiatry. Many psychiatrists in private practice retain their pagers and answering services as a needed triage between themselves and patients. (Over 55 percent of psychiatrists are also aged 55+.)

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