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There has been some recent discussion in the industry about whether the pager is dead as a mobile communication device. Healthcare has often been seen as one of the last bastions of pager use. They receive signals in hospitals where cell phones do not, and a very simple message can be broadcast simultaneously, triggering a prompt response. Imagine if you had to call every member of the airway team and tell them all that a patient was crashing on the Med-Surg unit. Even sending a group text is iffy and, again, dependent on a signal getting through to a cell phone - which may also be in use at the time, further delaying the message. But a page with the very simple message "2 WEST 911" triggers a response that is likely to be more timely.
Of course, all of this is dependent on pager services and transmitters still operating in your area. With the once ubiquitous beeper now going the way of the VHS, we are becoming increasingly reliant on other types of technologies, such as those that run over a wireless network.
I remember when the common perception was that there were two types of people who carried pagers: physicians and drug dealers. One you called when you needed them to help you feel better. The other was your doctor.
In the '80s and '90s, when I was on-call for support of critical hospital systems, I carried a pager, and I would guess there were some people who tried to figure out whether I was selling or prescribing drugs. Back then members of the oldest profession also carried pagers so they could be directed to their next appointment. I don’t think anyone ever pondered whether that was why I had a pager. That was Dan Ackroyd’s job anyway.
Pagers themselves evolved over time, with the first generation sounding only a tone with no display (remember Dr. Beeper in Caddyshack?). Then we had single-line numeric-only displays. Without those, how would we have ever known that 07734 when viewed upside-down spells "hello"? The next evolution brought us multi-line alphanumeric displays. And eventually, a device from RIM with a tiny keyboard on which you could respond with alphanumeric text as well (Yes Virginia, there once was a Blackberry without a phone). This was about the same time that cell phones were becoming ubiquitous and text-messaging was gaining in popularity. Thus the rise of the cell phone spelled the demise of the pager – at least outside of hospitals.
An interesting coincidence happened around the same time. In 2003, California Senate Bill 420 legalized the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes. That meant for some patients, they now only needed one number to call for drugs and medical care. As technology evolved, blurring the lines between voice and data, so too did the line between the two groups most closely associated with pager use. I’ll come back to this.
Healthcare is all about data. We churn through massive amounts of it, trying to find connections, trying to link cause and effect. It’s no wonder, then, that I get a kick out of seemingly unrelated correlations of data to demonstrate a connection. Here in New York City we have the subway-pizza connection. For more than 50 years, the price of a subway ride and the price of a slice of pizza have been inextricably linked. I’m serious. Check it out here.
So why do I bring up the subway-pizza relationship? Because I have discovered a similar and seemingly unexpected correlation. Follow my logic:
What groups were once most closely associated with pagers? Doctors and drug dealers.
What happened around the same time that pager use began to wane? Doctors began dispensing medicinal marijuana.
Today, what group still uses pagers? Doctors.
Today, what industry besides healthcare uses pagers more than any other? Restaurants. Give your name to the host at the podium, and you’re handed a flat, square device that vibrates and lights up when your table is ready. It’s a pager.
So what’s the correlation? What’s my hypothesis? The pager business has evolved right along with and continues to support the marijuana supply chain: Source. Distribution. Munchies.
I think I’ll piggyback on to the NYC example and call this the Pager Pot Pizza Principle.
The views expressed in this blog are my own and do not reflect the views of my employer.
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