Pagers were a doctor’s trusted sidekick for so long. It was a common sight and sound to see a doctor with a small device, knowing that it’s a pager. You’re in a coffee shop and you hear that certain sound, and you know that person was just paged. Pagers have been around for so long and are still being used by many doctors. Recently, however, with the emergence of smart phones, it’s been harder for pagers to keep their post of a doctor’s sidekick. Smart phones can offer so much more, but at the same time smart phones and their apps aren’t as perfect as one would like them to be. Perhaps what makes pagers so amazing is their simplicity.
For junior doctors right now, using a smart phone probably isn’t much of an issue. In fact anyone who graduated recently probably spends more time staring at his or her phone than not. For doctors who are in their 50s, using a smart phone can be a little complicated. Sure, they can use them for everyday things like texting, calling, and social networks, but some medical apps these days are way too complex and can be hard to use. Spending a lot of time on a phone can also decrease-face to-face time spent with fellow doctors and patients. They both have perks and flaws, but perhaps smart phones need to learn a little more from pagers in order to become the most valuable tool a doctor can have when it comes to communication.
First of all we need to talk about reliability. This means that a device, or method, always works and you don’t expect it to fail. Pagers are extremely reliable. You can be sure that you won’t miss anything sent to your pager and that people can reach you when they need to. It’s hard to say the same thing applies to smart phones. It’s not uncommon for us to not be able to call someone sometimes because of errors in technology or the network. Sometimes your texts won’t be a sent for a while. There’s also the issue that medical apps can be inconsistent. You might be able to depend on it now, but in a week it might get an update that messes it up, and what’s worse is that by the time you figure out something is wrong, it might be too late.
It’s a lot like comparing an old Nokia phone to one of today’s smart phones. Sure, today’s phones are much more versatile and can do things old phones would explode trying to do, but you know that you can count on that old Nokia phone you keep in your drawer for emergencies or for when your new phone breaks down. In medicine, reliability can be more important than versatility. Would you rather be able to do more at the expense of missing an important message from a patient or would it be safer to do less but make sure you get everything you’re supposed to? A missed or undelivered notification can cost someone a life in an emergency, which is why reliability wins every time.
Besides reliability, doctors also often look for simplicity. Everything related to healthcare is becoming so digitalized that it’s starting to become a burden to doctors. With electronic health records and telemedicine, doctors are spending more and more time with their screens and less time with their patients. Too much complexity can be very frustrating for someone who spends his or her day improving and saving lives. A lot of doctors have complained about how digitalized it’s all becoming and it may be adding to the risk of burnout and physician depression. The last thing a lot of doctors need right now is more screens.
A pager is quite simple. It can give a simple message and is followed by the number the doctor should call. It’s short and simple. No need for elaborate data. It does its job, the doctor gets the message, and acts accordingly. Sure smart phones can be used to convey a lot more data and give the physician more information, but like we said it’s not reliable and is that extra information really necessary? Won’t a doctor rush to the wards or call the hospital and find out anyway? It’s also likely for someone to ignore phone notifications if they want to relax, but a doctor who knows people will try to reach him for medical reasons can never let a notification go because it might be vital.
A doctor’s health is also something that has to be taken into consideration, especially his or her mental health. We mentioned burnout and depression and these issues need to be addressed. You can’t keep forcing screens on doctors, especially if they’re uncomfortable with them. Perhaps apps can find a way to be simple enough so that they only relay essential information in the most simple way possible in order to prevent doctors from spending all their time looking at screens instead of patients.
Just like some doctors are uncomfortable with smart phones, others are. Yes, a pager can be simpler and anyone can learn how to use it in under 5 minutes, but if you give a teenager a basic phone made in 2004 and another one made this year, what do you think they’ll choose? Of course they’re going to go for the smart phone. Fresh graduates have no problems with technology and some senior doctors as well prefer what new phones have to offer. They like knowing more on the spot and having as much information as possible with them and accessible all the time. Smart phones are also the way moving forward. In a few years, no one will still be using pagers. Hospitals and practices will keep updating their systems and communication methods and eventually pagers will definitely become a thing of the past.
Patients prefer doctors to use their smart phones as well because they make them more accessible. You can use particular apps in order to reach your physician which is something you can’t do using your pager. Email alone is a huge advantage that smart phones have over pagers. Smart phones are also relatively more secure. Pagers can easily be hacked and their communications intercepted and known. Yes, they’re more reliable, but at the same time less secure and more liable to be hacked. If you’re going to use a particular smart phone app, then you should make sure that the app’s security is up to standards so that any patient information exchanged is completely secure.
Ultimately there’s no definite way to go. You could prefer and use one or the other, but eventually pagers will be done and dusted just like paper records are becoming obsolete. The way forward is to make everything digital and accessible at the touch of a button, which is what smart phones can and have the potential to do. Yes they’re lacking in a few aspects, but there’s always room for improvement and it won’t be too difficult for developers to make them as suited for the needs of doctors as much as possible.
A few ways smart phones can improve include being more reliable, less complex, and to take less time out of a doctor’s day. Some physicians are already having trouble with EHRs and all the technology being implemented. The last thing they need is for their personal smart phone to become a source of worries as well. Simplicity is the way forward and just because something is advanced technologically, that doesn’t mean it has to be complex.
- Pagers are being replaced my smartphones at a rapid rate and may soon become a thing of the past.
- Physicians' burnout is on the rise, partly due to the abundance of screens doctors stare at each day.
- While smartphones are useful, they should retain the simple functions of pagers for efficiency.