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Pagers Cost Hospitals Billions Each Year
By Larry Ponemon, PhD
Earlier this month, the Ponemon Institute released a study titled “The Economic & Productivity Impact of IT Security on Healthcare” that aims to quantify the impact that the use of pagers and other outdated communication technologies has on healthcare. The research reveals that communication in healthcare lags behind other industries, in large part because of the perceived security and compliance risks associated with the use of smartphones and other modern technologies.
As a result, outmoded communication systems waste clinicians’ time, limit patient interaction, lengthen discharge times, and lead to significant industry-wide economic loss.
The healthcare industry is facing some challenges in trying to balance the convenience benefit of new technologies with the need to keep patient health information protected at all times. While the implementation of electronic medical records and other new technologies is designed to improve efficiency and enhance patient care, it also has the potential to introduce risk, so IT departments must ensure that these new systems meet security and regulatory compliance requirements to keep private information protected.
As organizations struggle to strike this balance, the use of pagers and other outdated communications technologies continues as the status quo, in large part because of the perceived security and compliance risks associated with the use of smartphones and other modern technologies.
To quantify the impact this has and try to understand the scope, we surveyed 577 doctors, nurses, hospital administrators, IT practitioners, and other healthcare professionals. Overwhelmingly, respondents agreed that the deficient communications tools currently in use decrease productivity and limit the time doctors have to spend with patients. They also recognized the value of implementing smartphones, text messaging, and other modern forms of communications, but cited restrictive security policies as a primary reason why these technologies are not in use.
This study revealed that the use of pagers and other outdated communication technologies decreases clinician productivity and increases patient discharge times, collectively costing U.S. hospitals more than $8.3 billion annually.
According to our findings, clinicians waste an average of about 46 minutes each day due to the use of outmoded communication technologies. The primary reasons cited are the inefficiency of pagers, the lack of Wi-Fi availability, the inadequacy of e-mail, and the inability to use text messaging. On average, we estimate that this waste of clinicians’ time costs each U.S. hospital more than $900,000 per year. Based on the number of registered hospitals in the US, this translates to an industry-wide loss of more than $5.1 billion annually.
We also found that similar deficiencies in communications lengthen patient discharge time, which currently averages about 101 minutes. The majority of respondents said about half of this time could be eliminated if modern communication technologies were allowed. Specifically, 65 percent of survey respondents believe that secure text messaging can cut discharge time by about 50 minutes. Again, based on the number of registered hospitals in the U.S., we estimate that this ‘idle time’ during the discharge process costs more than $3.1 billion in lost revenue per year across the healthcare industry.
One of the primary reasons why smartphones and other newer technologies have not yet been adopted on a broad scale is the perceived security and compliance risks this would create. As a matter of both best practices and complying with HIPAA regulations, healthcare IT administrators are charged with keeping clinical systems and private health information protected at all times. As with other industries, we see that the reduction of risk often comes at the sacrifice of the convenience and productivity benefits of newer technologies.
For example, native SMS text messaging is not encrypted and therefore cannot be used to transmit private health information. Many hospitals have a policy forbidding the use of texting despite the fact that research like ours clearly demonstrates the value it would have on both clinical workflows and patient care. In fact, the majority of respondents to our survey said HIPAA compliance requirements can be a barrier to providing effective patient care. Specifically, HIPAA reduces time available for patient care, makes access to electronic patient information difficult, and restricts the use of electronic communications.
There is clearly a tension between giving caregivers access to the best possible technology to do their job effectively and ensuring that security and compliance requirements are met. Unfortunately we see that the pendulum seems to swing in favor of the latter, and while it is absolutely necessary to ensure security and patient privacy, clinician productivity and patient care suffer as a result.
One of the takeaways from our research is that healthcare professionals—both clinicians as well as IT staff—seem to understand these challenges and the benefits of deploying more modern communication technologies. For example, 74 percent of survey respondents said secure text messaging either has replaced pagers or will replace pagers within the next two years at their organization.
This is encouraging, and we think research like this will help the healthcare industry realize that the cost of implementing new, modern communication tools will be just a fraction of the economic and productivity costs of continuing to rely on pagers and other outdated technologies.
Larry Ponemon, PhD is chairman and founder of Ponemon Institute of North Traverse City, MI.