Paging 1994: Report Says Hospitals Are Leaking Billions Of Dollars By Still Using Beepers

There are no doubt millions of children in the United States right now who would greet a pager with a blank stare, having never witnessed one in action. And yet the country’s hospitals still rely on beepers and other outdated technology for communication between staff members. But being stuck in 1994 isn’t a cheap endeavor, according to a new report — it’s actually costing hospitals billions of dollars a year. So why do they still use them?

According to a new study by technology research firm Ponemon Institute (via CNNMoney), doctors and nurses working in hospitals waste 46 minutes a day on average by using beepers to send patient info to each to each other, instead of using those newfangled cell phones and smartphones to text.

Other outdated technology or lack of Wi-Fi access and restrictive email policies are also to blame for wasted time, say health care providers. That lost productivity equals about $8 billion annually the report says, a loss that could be curbed by using better technology, says the chairman of the Ponemon institute.

So why don’t they just hand everyone a tablet and a smartphone? Perhaps hospitals would be willing to get with the times, but there’s a lot of strict regulation standing in the way of innovation.

To wit: The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act is a rigid federal law that lays out how a patient’s health information may be transmitted electronically. That’s important as patients have a right to confidentiality — imagine if your records could be sent out to who knows where with just the slip of a finger on a touch screen? Not a great scenario.

The communications used by medical staff have to include some way of identifying a user, encryption and an automatic logoff function so prying eyes can’t go peeping where they shouldn’t.

Pagers work, and comply with the law, so they’ve stuck around. If hospitals did provide secure text messaging, doctors and nurses could use their personal phones instead, and spend more time with patients and cut down on the time it takes to discharge them.

Change could finally be coming to hospitals, as most of the 577 hospital-employed health care providers surveyed say they expect text messaging to replace pagers in the next two years.

Welcome to the 21st century, guys… well, almost.

Pagers cost hospitals billions [CNNMoney]