Consigning the pager to history: 21st century communications for modern healthcare
Frontline healthcare staff work in highly pressurised environments where time delays can be critical, if not fatal. Valuing employees means providing them with the right tools to get the job done.
The rise of smartphone usage has resulted in increasing numbers of healthcare professionals informally introducing this technology to the workplace. It is easy to understand how this situation has arisen. Effective communication is essential; it increases efficiency, builds team relationships and enhances collaboration. BUT, when employees seek workarounds to systems, it’s a clear indication that existing systems aren’t working.
Outdated modes of communication
To understand how smartphones have crept into common use within healthcare environments, it’s important to understand what models of communication currently exist. 1960s technology, such as pagers and faxes, are the status quo within many healthcare settings. The NHS still uses approximately 130,000 pagers, at an annual cost of £6.6 million[i]. More than one in 10 of the world’s pagers are currently used by the NHS. Most mobile phone companies have phased out support for pagers, leaving only one provider in the UK. This means a single device can cost up to £400.
The pagers used in the NHS today are mostly one-way communication devices that can receive short messages but cannot send replies. In order to call back, the recipient must use a mobile phone or find a landline. The recipient is unaware who is contacting them, the reasons why, or the level of urgency. This can interrupt work, waste time, make the prioritisation of tasks difficult. Additionally, the evidence trail of communications is limited.
Pagers only facilitate one to one communication, whereas messaging apps facilitate group interaction. This is particularly useful for collaborating colleagues who are frequently dispersed across a vast hospital campus. A survey[ii] of 60 trusts conducted by the British Medical Journal found that 91.9% of doctors surveyed reported using some form of external instant messaging (IM) app at work. More importantly 83.3% had sent or received an instant message containing patient identifiable data (PID).
Patient safety at the expense of patient confidentiality?
In many instances, IM is simply replacing the informal conversations that occur within working teams. With teams spread across multiple wards it’s not always possible to communicate face to face. The speed of IM allows colleagues to quickly check in on whether an x-ray or blood test has taken place. These speedy communications are invaluable in time pressurised settings.
The problem arises when IM apps encroach on the existing formal communication systems where record keeping and an audited paper trail are deemed essential. The introduction of the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in May 2018 raises legal and practical implications to the sharing of personal data. Organisations have taken great strides towards understanding their responsibility towards safeguarding data. However, too often the security of mobile communications is overlooked when auditing risks.
Consumer grade apps are not designed for the sharing and safeguarding of PID. The lack of security, transparency and auditability are hugely problematic. However, there is no disguising the fact that IM apps are in use because quick access to essential information at the point of care can make a huge difference to patient outcomes. If technology is not benefitting patient care or clinician workloads, then it raises the question of what purpose is it serving?
A realtime solution for realtime conversations
Within the healthcare sector, efficient modes of communication are not only vital but could be the differentiator in patient outcomes. The availability, portability and connectivity of smartphones provide healthcare professionals with access to health-related content any time and any place. There is huge potential for mobile devices to enhance healthcare delivery without compromising patient privacy or safety.
Armour provides a secure converged communication solution that addresses the unique needs of the health care sector. Security is baked in, not bolted on, ensuring secure internal communications without compromising the user experience. Within a single app, ‘Medicomms by Armour’ offers secure IM, secure video consultations and time limited patient aftercare communications. Beneficially, it also provides secure capture of patient information that can be directly applied to the correct electronic patient record.
Communications without compromising security
‘Medicomms by Armour’ mobile app provides the same level of usability as consumer-grade apps, but with significantly enhanced security. Delivering a secure, efficient and multi-functional replacement for pagers.
Healthcare providers can harness the power of technology to benefit both patients and clinicians. A secure converged application like ‘Medicomms by Armour’ not only provides a fully auditable, transparent and GDPR compliant solution. It saves money by replacing antiquated paging systems that no longer meet the needs of 21st century healthcare setting.
Visit Armour Comms at Digital Health Rewired 2020 at stand F2 to understand how our secure mobile app is transforming communications within healthcare.