University of Iowa Health Care has been receiving a good bit of press after a local TV station ran a story called “Bye-Bye Beepers” that implied the health system is eliminating pagers. I spoke to Patrick Duffy, administrative lead of the technical operations division, who says that isn’t quite the case.
The health system still hasn’t figured out how it can replace pagers for off-campus use, but it has moved inpatient nursing unit communication to Voalte running on iPhone 4S phones. “We’re doing what we said we wouldn’t do – adding a device – while eventually moving off the paging system,” Duffy says. “Also integrating with nurse call, and hopefully eventually monitors and Epic.”
The hospital has 8,000 pagers with extensive workflows based on their use. But according to Duffy, “As good as they are at doing what they do, we were having more and more issues with not being able to close the loop and have that acknowledgment.”
The health system went through several technologies before deciding on Voalte. They tried several hundred proprietary NEC devices, but ran into problems with network access. Cisco Voice gave them full Wi-Fi coverage throughout their 4 million square feet, but users kept asking how to send text messages on the Cisco 7925 wireless phones. Some users favored Vocera’s hands-free capabilities, while Microsoft Lync was also considered.
”We wanted more of a platform and not just a pager replacement – two-way, secure, and with message acknowledgment,” Duffy says. “Voalte made sense since we wanted to make a decision right away.”
I asked Duffy how his department determined which pager users were candidates for iPhones. “We talked to the nursing managers and medical directors. We asked, who do you communicate with? We got a list of who had pagers, who had Cisco phones, who gets all of their pages during the day on the unit, what are the needs for external paging outside the facility.”
Wholesale replacement of pagers may occur down the road, but the health system has no specific timeline or plan. UI is looking at Voalte Me, which runs on personal iPhones and possibly eventually on Android phones. Hospital operators use Amcom for paging and it has its own mobile app that can run on personal devices. Users who don’t need alarming and alerting capability could get by with simpler paging capabilities running on their personal phones. For users who send messages via Amcom’s Smart Web paging application, messages can be sent to pagers, personal iPhones, and Outlook email, although guaranteed delivery of the message is up to the carrier. UI is also looking at HIPAA-compliant secure texting.
Eliminating nursing unit pagers has provided other benefits. “It’s quieter,” Duffy says. “Pagers aren’t going off, phones aren’t ringing. We’re trying to reevaluate the model for our wired phone presence and the impact of mobility on our legacy systems.”