British Doctors Try to Say Cheerio to Problems with Pagers

doctors say goodbye to pagers

We have often written on this blog about problems with pagers, including how pager use causes significant privacy issues for the doctors who use them and the patients whose data is exchanged. We have described how pagers prevent physicians from being able to immediately contacting their colleagues while simultaneously hindering a virtuous workflow. Turns out we’re not the only country facing this problem. The land of the Union Jack also has experienced these very same problems.

According to recent statistics, Britain’s national healthcare system (NHS) accounts for 10% of all pagers used in the world at an annual cost of almost $10 MM. Like many American doctors, UK physicians have also found that pagers are a blunt instrument for communication that need to be surpassed.

NHS Pages like its 1969

In the UK, the process for a physician to use a pager is even more convoluted and antiquated than anything ever seen in the U.S. In the UK, if a physician wants to page his colleague she needs to:

  1. Find a landline in the hospital and call the switchboard to request their colleague.
  2. The operator pages the 2nd doctor with the 4-digit extension that the first doctor called from
  3. The 2nd doctor receives a text on their page and then looks for a landline phone on their end to try to call the 1st Hopefully this happens while doctor #1 is still on the phone

The result often is that after a few minutes of doctor #1 waiting for doctor #2, doctor #1 moves on because she has other things to do.

Often these doctors receive the alerts while they are in the middle of seeing another patient or working on research and so cannot return the call immediately. As a result, At the end of the day, doctor #2 will often end up with a long list of call backs she needs to make with no sense of how important any of those calls were.

Docs run afoul of NHS

As a result of the confusion and frustration caused by problems with pagers, many physicians have turned to unsecure messaging solutions like Facebook Messenger. Recent numbers show that 43% of physicians in the UK rely on instant messaging platforms.  Additionally, 32% of these physicians only use consumer-grade tools to send instant messages at work.

Even if the physician chooses a more secure solution like WhatsApp, she is still without a solution that has an enterprise capability. Without enterprise capabilities, physicians cannot ensure that messages don’t accidentally get mixed up and sent to the wrong person.

While physicians in some cases do express concerns about security, the majority are not even aware of the security requirements that they need to uphold for patient data. Let’s face it. Doctors are concerned with their patients’ health and expediting treatment. Security is a secondary concern at best.

Many physicians in the UK use IM in ways that breach security.  A report on the NHS cites numerous anonymous examples given by respondents of “accidentally sending patient information to non-clinical staff, sharing ‘pertinent’ patient details on social media and sending patient photos to others for ‘entertainment purposes’”. Even so, physicians value the usability of IM apps over pagers because pager technologies hinder productivity.

Ensuring adoption of safer solutions

The U.K. is facing a problem similar to the one faced by the U.S. a few years ago but at least the U.S. has progressed further down the path towards pager replacement. Gartner Research recently wrote that

There will be steady pressure [in the next few years] to replace pagers with newer mobile technology and it will become increasingly difficult to justify pager use as more healthcare provider roles require more robust bidirectional communications.

While the UK’s NHS does not seem to feel a similar impetus, they do face the issue that Vodafone is no longer supporting the pager network and that fewer solutions exist to keep up the existing infrastructure.

Given the storm that NHS will soon have to weather, it makes sense for British healthcare to look into secure clinical messaging alternatives to pagers. OnPage, for example, ensures secure messaging, instant alerting and the ability to exchange patient information in a way that does not challenge physicians’ workflow or their way of communicating.


So, what should England’s NHS do? Clearly, the time has come for them to look beyond tradition and find a solution that keeps patients’ information secure and doctors’ workflow unencumbered.

To learn more about the problems with pagers, download our whitepaper.

British Doctors Try to Say Cheerio to Pager Use