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Health Care Is Stuck In The Past

We respond to certain “Code Blue” situations in our hospital. In the ED, of course, and in the outpatient areas and radiology, and if needed as back-up in the inpatient units. The hospital issues one of those overhead calls when there is a code blue — a cardiac arrest or other collapse, person down, injury, etc., but we also carry a pager in the ER in case we don’t hear the overhead call. The pager also signifies which doc is designated to respond to such a call, since we often have 8 docs working at once. It’s a little ritual we have at change of shift, passing off the pager and the spectralink phone, like the passing of the torch to the oncoming doc.

So of course I took the pager home the other day and had to make an extra trip to the hospital to return it. Ugh.

As I was driving back in, I took a moment to really look at the thing, and it struck me that this pager is the exact same model I used in medical school and residency, way back in the mid nineties. The exact same one:

How bizarre is that, when you think about it? This device ought to be a relic in a museum of outmoded technology. This device was in use before the iPad and iPhone, before smartphones at all, before digital cell phones. When this device was first put to market, the internet barely existed, if it did at all, computers all had CRT monitors and the fastest computers out there was running a 200mHz Pentium Pro.

Yet it remains in widespread use, having never been updated, improved or (as far as I can tell) altered in any way whatsoever. Where else will you ever find a piece of technology still in use unchanged for a decade and a half? What industry is so ossified and hidebound that it would fail to adapt to the rapid improvements in communication technology?

Only in health care, my friends, only in health care.

*This blog post was originally published at Movin' Meat*


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One Response to “Health Care Is Stuck In The Past”

  1. Ben says:

    It seems obvious that the pager is antiquated, but I am curious: what should replace it? Hospitals are notoriously hostile to cell phone signals as they often produce lots of interference and have heavy walls which weaken signals. Furthermore, even in hospitals where cellphones are reliable, messages sent to a cell will be competing with email, texting, facebook, twitter, etc for the doctor’s attention. Since getting a smart phone I have gotten slower to respond to urgent messages because I receive so much notification that I often don’t realize something important has come through. And finally, the battery life of a cell phone is dramatically smaller than that of a pager so if an errant service on the phone decides to drain 4 hours from your battery life you’re out of luck. And on top of all of this, the monthly cost of cellphone service is MUCH greater than pager service. It may be that pagers are only still around due to bureaucratic incompetence and technophobic docs, but it also seems possible to me that pagers just happen to be great at the service with which they are tasked, and that no alternative is truly better for this role.

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