Why Do Doctors Still Carry Pagers?


Seeing a pager in today’s technologically evolved world is like spotting a hand-cranked car engine. In an era where the cell phone has replaced virtually every item in an old Radio Shack catalog, what’s the point of sticking with a device that hasn’t evolved in 20-odd years?

For physicians, the answer is that an anachronistic messaging system may still be best. Even though pager use has dropped from 61 million users in 1994 to less than six million today, hospital employees are helping to keep this seemingly redundant device from obsolescence for two reasons. In an urgent-care situation, they may be more reliable than cell phone reception. Second, hospitals are in no hurry to upgrade telecommunications.

“The feeling has been that in hospitals where the walls are shielded due to MRIs, cells phone aren’t universal,” says Fred Pelzman, M.D., an internist affiliated with New York-Presbyterian Hospital. “And hospitals will just tell you, ‘We use pagers.’ Cost is probably a factor in that.”

By some estimates, more than 90 percent of hospitals in the country use a telecommunications system based around pagers. Typically, a patient, nurse, or physician will phone a number designated for an urgent response; a dispatch center will take the message, then contact the on-call physician. The physician gets a page and returns the call.

It sounds inefficient, and it is. One survey shows that doctors waste up to 45 minutes a day using a relay system. But according to Pelzman, having a dedicated cell phone for messages wouldn’t be quite the same. “You have a pager when a patient is unstable. When a pager goes off, your instinct is to immediately respond. I don’t know you’d get that same kind of jolt if someone left a voicemail.” Compared to cell phones, pagers don’t need recharging—only batteries that need to be changed every few months. They also can be relied upon in cases of a natural disaster cutting off cell towers because they don't use over-crowded mobile phone networks.

Some hospitals are exploring alternative messaging systems like Vocera, a voice-operated badge that allows for near-instant consultations. But for Pelzman and many physicians, the distinctive beep of a pager would be a hard stimulus to leave behind. “When my pager goes off in the middle of the night, I’m wide awake,” he says. “It’s ingrained in my DNA.”

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Starbucks Is Giving Free Coffee to Frontline COVID-19 Workers All Month Long

Starbucks is saying thank you in typical Starbucks fashion.
Starbucks is saying thank you in typical Starbucks fashion.

Starbucks is showing its support for those individuals on the front lines of the fight against COVID-19 this holiday season by giving the gift of free coffee—all month long.

From now through December 31, any health care worker or other frontline worker can get a tall hot or iced coffee whenever they stop by Starbucks. The offer extends to just about anybody in a medical profession, including doctors, nurses, public health administrators, pharmacists, paramedics, dentists and dental hygienists, therapists, psychologists, social workers, counselors, and other mental health professionals. Non-medical hospital personnel—including members of the janitorial, housekeeping, and security staffs—also qualify, as do emergency dispatchers, firefighters, police officers, and active-duty members of the military.

To address the pandemic’s emotional toll on essential workers, Starbucks has also contributed $100,000 to the National Alliance on Mental Illness to be used for virtual mental health services; and the company will give out 50,000 Starbucks care packages and gift cards to frontline workers across the country. While the main goal is to show gratitude to those keeping the nation afloat during an extremely difficult time, Starbucks is also hoping their initiative can be an example for other companies with resources to spare.

“Hopefully other brands will join us in thinking about how [they can] use their platform to again show support,” Virginia Tenpenny, Starbucks's vice president of global social impact, told USA TODAY. “Little deposits in morale can really go a long way, just so that they feel the support from our community.”

It’s not the first time Starbucks has spearheaded a long-term coffee giveaway this year; between March and May, the company handed out more than 2 million free cups of joe to professionals helping the country through the coronavirus pandemic. The Starbucks Foundation has also donated several million dollars to relief funds, food banks, and local organizations.

[h/t USA Today]