Devices & Technology

Text Messaging Simplifies Communication for Nurses and Hospitals


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By David Sindel, staff writer

Phone calls can be interrupting. Listening to voice mail is time consuming. E-mail is not always practical. That’s why a growing number of hospitals, as well as individual nurses, are finding that text messaging is the best mode of communication in a hospital setting.

Text Messaging
While many hospitals still use one-way pagers, more facilities seem to be turning to the use of text messages to communicate situations that need immediate attention.

While many hospitals and medical facilities still use one-way pagers, the wave of the future appears to be the use of two-way pagers. One-way systems can receive only phone numbers, requiring the message recipient to use an actual phone to contact the sender for information. Two-way systems can send or receive text messages which can include detailed information, eliminating the need for a follow-up phone call.

Hospitals are using text messages to communicate staffing situations that need immediate attention. For example, if a major emergency occurs and there is not enough staff on hand, nurses and doctors can be contacted directly and requested to report.

“The conventional method of locating and securing nursing staff can become an all-day affair,” said Bob Beverly, founder of Advantix Communications, developer of Text-A-Nurse, a leading software communications system. “Going down a staff list and making a series of phone calls eats up a lot of time and often results in frustration when messages are not returned and staffing calls go off on lengthy, time-consuming tangents. Text messaging allows all the details to be quickly and clearly communicated.”

Among the major facilities that have taken texting under their wing are Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland, UCSF Medical Center in San Francisco, California, and University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, Texas. Each of these facilities is using a system called PagerBox to allow their staff to send pages or instant messages to colleagues. PagerBox uses any Web browser to reach devices or terminals where the recipient can read a text message or page.

Nurses talk amongst each other

Texting is also becoming a preferred method for staff within a facility to communicate amongst themselves. Nurses can use text messages to report information to doctors, advising them of such things as lab results that the physician has been waiting for that are now available for review. Nurses also use texting for such situations as letting a co-worker know that they are being delayed in one area of the facility and will need someone to cover for them until they arrive.

Nurses have long complained that with typical one-way pagers there is no way to determine which incoming page is more important than another; numbers simply get listed in the order received. Text messages enable the sender to explain how high a priority their message carries. For vital messages to nurses, this is an important advantage.

Texting can save a life

Texting can offer other unique advantages, as well. One of the most remarkable examples of how valuable a resource text messaging can be took place in October 2008. A doctor volunteering in war-torn Congo was able to perform a complex amputation to save a boy’s life by following instructions sent to him by text message from a colleague in London. The 16-year-old, who’d been caught in the midst of crossfire, required a forequarter amputation, a huge operation which usually requires much careful planning and a well-equipped operating theater.

“In the best hands, it carries huge risks,” said David Nott, the vascular surgeon working for the volunteer organization Medicins Sans Frontieres who performed the surgery. “I had never done the operation before, but knew someone in London who had. So I texted him and he sent text messages back explaining how to do the operation step by step.”

The result: it saved the boy’s life!

© 2009. AMN Healthcare, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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