It's not about pager replacement: an in-depth look at the interprofessional nature of communication in healthcare

J Hosp Med. 2013 Mar;8(3):137-43. doi: 10.1002/jhm.2008. Epub 2013 Jan 18.


Background: Institutions have tried to replace the use of numeric pagers for clinical communication by implementing health information technology (HIT) solutions. However, failing to account for the sociotechnical aspects of HIT or the interplay of technology with existing clinical workflow, culture, and social interactions may create other unintended consequences.

Objective: To evaluate a Web-based messaging system that allows asynchronous communication between health providers and identify the unintended consequences associated with implementing such technology.

Design: Intervention-a Web-based messaging system at the University Health Network to replace numeric paging practices in May 2010. The system facilitated clinical communication on the medical wards for coordinating patient care. Study design-pre-post mixed methods utilizing both quantitative and qualitative measures.

Participants: Five residents, 8 nurses, 2 pharmacists, and 2 social workers were interviewed. Pre-post interruption-15 residents from 5 clinical teams in both periods.

Measurements: The study compared the type of messages sent to physicians before and after implementation of the Web-based messaging system; a constant comparative analysis of semistructured interviews was used to generate key themes related to unintended consequences.

Results: Interruptions increased 233%, from 3 pages received per resident per day pre-implementation to 10 messages received per resident per day post-implementation. Key themes relating to unintended consequences that emerged from the interviews included increase in interruptions, accountability, and tactics to improve personal productivity.

Conclusions: Meaningful improvements in clinical communication can occur but require more than just replacing pagers. Introducing HIT without addressing the sociotechnical aspects of HIT that underlie clinical communication can lead to unintended consequences.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Cell Phone / standards*
  • Delivery of Health Care / methods
  • Delivery of Health Care / standards*
  • Hospital Communication Systems / standards*
  • Humans
  • Interdisciplinary Communication*
  • Interprofessional Relations*
  • Patient Care / methods
  • Patient Care / standards