Accountable care wants doctors to toss pagers

by Loren Bonner, DOTmed News Online Editor | June 27, 2013
Add outdated communication technologies to your list of what's costing U.S. hospitals. A recent study by the Ponemon Institute found that the use of pagers and other antiquated communication technologies wastes 45 minutes of providers' time each day, costing the average U.S. hospital nearly $1 million annually. Out of a survey group of 577 health care professionals in hospitals across the country, 52 percent cited pagers as being an inefficient technology.

However, hospitals already know this kind of technology is on its way out. The same study found that secure text messaging will replace pagers in the next one to two years, according to respondents, and that web portals will be the way of the future for patient and provider communication.

It may have just been a matter of time before hospitals finally exited the dark ages, but the Affordable Care Act has certainly added more impetus. The creation of accountable care organizations and patient-centered medical homes — which are both endorsed in the legislation — place an emphasis on team-based care that is coordinated and centered around the patient. More efficient communication tools are seen as one way to support these models.

In fact, the Ponemon study said that the web portal was viewed as the number one communication tool for the accountable care organization model, followed by secure text messaging and encrypted e-mail.

"Health care reform generally is pushing us all to do more with less," Dr. Rasu Shrestha, vice president of medical information technology at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center and a practicing radiologist, told DOTmed News. "There is now no room for slacking when it comes to any health care delivery paradigm — and communications in the clinical setting is a tremendous opportunity area."

But if web portals and secure texting are going to replace communicating by phone, snail mail, and pagers, everyone agrees that security needs to be in place first when dealing with sensitive medical information.

Small town, big ideas

Dr. Robert Wergin practices medicine in a small Nebraska town with a population of 2,000. In between seeing patients at his rural health clinic, he's also on call at a critical access hospital associated with the clinic. For the past year, he's been using secure text messaging at the hospital through an encrypted smart phone system. But he admits that one of holdups in switching over to the system was making sure security was in place first with the system, so that doctors could communicate about patients. Text messaging may be second nature to many, but most text messaging does not comply with HIPAA (the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) and leaves sensitive patient health information out of control of health care provider organizations.

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