The Department of Health in the United Kingdom has commissioned a report on the costs of pagers and their use by NHS Trusts. The report showed that NHS Trusts use about 130,000 pagers, accounting for about 10% of pagers currently in use worldwide. The yearly cost to the NHS of using those pagers is about £6.6 million or $8.73 million, according to the report.
Benefits and Drawbacks of Using Pagers in Healthcare
Pagers are very useful in the healthcare industry. They are user-friendly, compact, easy to carry, and battery life is excellent. They last months rather than days on a single charge. The pager system utilizes its own frequencies and transmitters which can pass through buildings so coverage is superb. Communication is also quick and reliable. Pagers only have one function and they are very good at it.
Nonetheless, there are a lot of drawbacks to using pagers in healthcare. A lot of the pagers that NHS Trusts use do not support two-way communication. If a doctor gets a message, he/she needs to find a phone to call a number to get the message. If it’s not possible to respond immediately, messages are often written down. They can then easily be lost or forgotten. When replying to messages, physicians frequently find that the number is engaged and time is wasted calling back to get the message. Pagers also do not convey the urgency of a message.
the report was produced by CommonTime: A digital solutions firm. CommonTime concluded that the NHS should not use pagers and was shocked to discover how reliant the NHS is on pagers in emergency situations.
UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock would like to see the phasing out of all legacy devices from the NHS. He considers emails and smartphone apps to be much better options in terms of security, speed and cost. Switching from pagers to more advanced methods of communication will allow the NHS to save millions per year. The report mentioned a saving of about £2.7 million ($3.57 million) per year is possible if the NHS switched to mobile devices and software instead of pagers.
Replacing NHS Pagers with Messaging Apps and Secure Email
Secure messaging apps on smartphones are a practical substitute for pagers and are cheaper to use. The apps provide the same functions as WhatsApp and Skype, but with improved protection and greater message accountability.
The West Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust conducted a trial using a smartphone app in 2017. The app replaced all pagers, which allowed the doctors to save a lot of time communicating. The app permitted two-way communications between physicians and other healthcare professionals and could be used for group chats on desktops, smartphones and tablets.
Mobile technology could enhance security and enable the NHS to spend less, yet the technology has its downsides. There are dead-spots in hospitals so messages may not always be received immediately. Mobile networks may have slowdowns which could delay the receipt of messages; and there is possibility for mobile gadgets to interfere with hospital equipment. Those problems must be fixed, although NHS Trusts will be allowed to retain some pagers for emergency use, such as when mobile networks or hospital Wi-Fi are down.
Phasing Out of Fax Machines by 2020
A study by the Royal College of Surgeons in 2018 revealed NHS Trusts still use 9,000 fax machines for sending documents. The Department of Health announced in December 2018 that it is going to phase out fax machines and will replace them with secure, encrypted email which is more secure and efficient. NHS Trusts have been prevented from purchasing new fax machines since January 2019. Fax machines are to be totally phased out by April 2020. The UK government is also committed to phasing out legacy software. In May 2018, a £150 million ($1.98 million) deal was signed with Microsoft to upgrade all Windows XP and Windows 7 machines to Windows 10. The process is expected to be completed by January 14, 2020.