Pitch the pager or face the consequences
While smartphones have become the manner of communication for most professionals, pagers are still used in many professions as the standard mode of communication. This choice for pagers comes with significant consequences and indeed many suggest the need for finding pager alternatives in healthcare. For example, pagers are not a secure method for communicating as pager messages are unencrypted. They leak information. Pager communications can also be hijacked. What is surprising is that while pagers have many significant reliability issues associated with them, many doctor and healthcare organizations continue to use them rather than seek a pager alternative.
While the overall popularity of pagers has been in decline over the past several years (see Google trends graph), pagers still maintain stickiness in the healthcare industry. In part this reason is historical as pagers have been used to alert doctors since the 1950s and we always imagine doctors as getting alerted via page. The stickiness of pagers is also due to cellular coverage being weak inside hospitals and the fear that phone signals might interfere with sensitive medical equipment. Also, it doesn’t require significant wattage to send pages over large distances. And while pagers aren’t secure, they also were designed before security was even a concern in medical offices. Fifty years ago, doctors didn’t foresee the rise of HIPAA.
Seven reasons pagers need to leave healthcare
Yet the rise of HIPAA and the need for secure communication demonstrate the need for pagers to move on. Pagers are unsecure and put PHI (protected health information) at risk. In a recent study meant to test the security of pagers, researchers found that pagers:
- Can be compromised with a $20 investment. With a $20 investment a cybercriminal can buy the gear needed to remotely access a wide variety of pager communications making pager use not only insecure, but possibly a violation of HIPAA regulation.
- Allow every step of the medical transaction to be observed from pages. Every step from diagnosis to medicines being prescribed can be observed by 3rd
- Enable access to numerous points on the data pipeline where medical information can be accessed. 5 percent of data breaches in 2014 came in the medical/healthcare sector
- Permit criminals to easily take information gathered on patients and sell it or use it to impersonate caretakers.
- Permit easy spoofing. As the information from pagers can be “spoofed” it is possible to insert unwanted information into the message stream
- Can be hijacked and sent to pharmacies for alternative or increased medication
- Can be used to impersonate deceased individuals. In some countries, a death notification is sent when a patients die
We need pager alternatives in healthcare
The problems presented by pagers are very real and very present. The issues they pose are enhanced by their limited ability to communicate with other healthcare professionals once the pages are received. Healthcare professionals receive pages and then have to switch to their cellphone to further the communication. This clearly disrupts the care process for patients. Furthermore, a study by the Ponemon Institute demonstrated that pagers cost U.S. hospitals about $1.75 million annually.
As such, a real alternative needs to be found that enables safe, non-hackable communication among doctors. The cloud-enabled technology designed by OnPage ensures that doctors can
- Ensure all communications are HIPAA compliant
- Ensure all communications are encrypted
- Enable remote wipe of smartphone devices if they are lost or stolen
- Allow a process for user identification on each device
- Permit automatic log-out to prevent unauthorized access to PHI when a smartphone is left unattended
OnPage enables these capabilities while ensuring protected communications.
Clearly, pagers present a multitude of security and compliance issues. From being hacked to violating HIPAA, pagers might have just met their day. It’s time to turn to a new page.