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Communication survey on use of cellphones versus pagers among anesthesiologists


In recent years, cellphones have gradually replaced pagers as the main mode of communication among healthcare workers. The rapid, effective two-way communication with cellphones can potentially translate into improved patient care, especially in an intensive setting such as the operating room and critical care unit. However, electromagnetic interference (EMI) between cellphones and life-supporting devices may potentially result in patient harm. The survey aims to collate the anaesthesiologists' experience with cellphones and pagers in the workplace.


One hundred and forty survey forms were distributed to anaesthesiologists working in the National Health Group institutions and to members of the Singapore Society of Anaesthesiologists. The survey includes questions on the primary mode of communication at work, efficiency of communication with each device, problems with network transmission and experience with EMI, whether cellphones help to reduce medical error and avoid adverse outcomes, and what was judged to be a reasonable minimum operating distance for cellphones. In addition, cellphone users were polled on whether they will welcome such a change.


One hundred and nineteen anaesthesiologists responded. Fifty-nine respondents were pager users. No significant EMI was reported by all the participants. Among the pager users, 69% reported an experience with significant communication delay and the majority will prefer their pagers to be replaced with cellphones. Ninety-three percent of cellphone users responded positively towards the change in communication device, with the majority reporting a facilitation of communication. However, in the responders' opinion this did not directly translate into a reduction or avoidance of critical incidents or adverse outcome.


The recent transition from pagers to cellphones in Singapore hospitals has improved communication at work for anaesthetists. No instances of clinically significant EMI were reported. However, network coverage in operating theaters could be further improved to ensure prompt and effective communication among healthcare workers.


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Tan, B., Chin, K., Wong, Y. et al. Communication survey on use of cellphones versus pagers among anesthesiologists. Crit Care 12 (Suppl 2), P539 (2008).

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