Hospital-based cell phones could boost communication quality

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Using a set of hospital-based cell phones, as opposed to pagers or hospital landlines, could improve communication, particularly between radiology and on-the-go physicians like neurologists, according to an article published online April 29 in the Journal of the American College of Radiology.

David M. Naeger, MD, from the Department of Radiology and Biomedical Imaging at the University of California, San Francisco, and colleagues conducted a needs assessment to determine the quality of communication at their institution.

“A formal written report after image interpretation has been the mainstay of communication in radiology for decades,” they wrote. “Although this is an important document for record keeping and the communication of routine findings, time-sensitive or important results require direct communication in a timely manner.”

A survey of a small sample of four radiology residents and four neurology residents found that the typical method of communication between the specialties generally involved radiology using a pager system to contact neurology, where a neurologist would then use a landline to reach the radiologist on call. While most physicians reported being satisfied with this method of communication, neurology residents reported neutral or negative impressions of the amount of time it took to reach radiology.

The needs assessment also found that phone calls between radiology and neurology often added more clinical history to aid interpretation, resulting in changes to differential diagnoses in 47 percent of cases.

In response to the needs assessment, the departments of radiology and neurology received hospital-based cell phones that were engineered to not pose a risk of electromagnetic interference to hospital equipment, explained Naeger and colleagues. Seven months after distributing the phones, surveys were completed by 16 radiology residents and 14 neurology residents who had used them in practice.

Radiology residents again reported high satisfaction in their communication with neurology residents, though they admitted to still using the pager system in many cases as opposed to directly calling the neurologists’ cell phones. Neurology residents, on the other hand, were significantly more positive about the state of communication compared with the preimplementation surveys. They reported contacting radiology residents between three and six times per night, that the phones improved communication and that the time required to reach radiology was short.

“Issues of security, cost, and electrical interference must be considered, but the opportunity for improved communication may ultimately outweigh these factors,” wrote Naeger and colleagues.