Calling All Nurses: Changes in Nurse Call Systems

Technology is swift. Gone are the days of nurses wearing caps on their heads. Soon, call bells and overhead intercom systems will be relics, just like the phone booth. Microchips and computerization are marching forward, and as health care facilities and agencies convert their computer systems to ones with integrated handheld technology, call systems will probably also be improved.


The driving forces behind the need for new call system technology are:

HIPAA regulations. No administrator wants to take a chance on compromising patient privacy. The overhead intercom is not very private, so staff can justify upgrading both the call system technology and the computer system.

Critical nurse shortages. With fewer nurses and higher staffing costs, health care facilities must find ways to increase productivity and efficiency. The new call systems help accomplish that.

Outcomes data. With Medicare report cards and consumer access to outcomes data, health care facilities are jockeying for patient favor. Innovative call systems can help improve the quality of patient care
Patient satisfaction. A satisfied patient elevates the reputation of the facility and probably helps the patient recuperate earlier.


So, what do these new call systems offer? They can have many features, including:
âÂ?¢ A touch screen, located in the nurse’s station, that allows for interactive display and can control call information, input staff assignments, and monitor response times.
âÂ?¢ A wireless telephone interface that can route phone systems to the clinician’s phone or streaming communication badge, allowing them to talk to the patient and assess the urgency of seeing him before ever getting to the room. The staff operator can also can also triage calls from the master station and then call the clinician’s phone.
� A pocket paging interface allows for a pocket pager to alert clinicians about a patient.
� If the system has an infrared worker badge ID capability, a staff member can be located with a personnel locator. The location information can be continuously updated. Activity and reporting management software can make that information available in report format that details staff response times, etc.
� Equipment can be tagged with a locator badge and then be tracked.
âÂ?¢ Auxiliary alarm ports provide the capacity to alarm medical equipment such as IV pumps. The alarms will appear on the master station screen and then can be routed to either a clinician’s wireless phone or his pager.
� An Admission Discharge Transfer interface can import ADT patient information into the call system and continuously update it.


When wireless phones or pagers are part of the call system, several different vendors may be working together. As a result, the system may require additional servers and special software to integrate the different parts. There are no integration standards for vendors; thus, the systems may not operate as advertised or may not work as one in the future.�¹

Affinity Health System, a regional healthcare system located in Wisconsin, is comprised of St. Elizabeth Hospital, Mercy Medical Center, Calumet Medical center, twenty-three clinics and a long-term care facility. After holding two “phone fairs” and trying out wireless phones from four vendors, Affinity chose a fully integrated call system had a touch screen that allowed the clinicians to use the wireless phones as well as log in and out of shifts. The call buttons in the patients’ rooms are wired into the master station, which also registers the caregiver assignments, and dials the number of the appropriate nurse when a patient pushes the call button. Each phone in the system includes three lines for incoming and outgoing calls. The phones can also be transferred to another caregiver or extension, be put on hold, and conference up to six people. The phones have a range of 2.4 million square feet, and the system can operate up to 1500 phones.Ã?²

Mt. Sinai Hospital, a four-hundred-plus bed hospital in Toronto, Canada, has a fully integrated system that allows patients to push the call button, have the call sent to the clinician’s wireless phone, regular phone, or pager. Additionally, the system has the ability to warn the nurse in the same fashion when an IV pump begins to run out. If the clinician encounters a cardiac arrest, she can push an emergency button that sends a signal to all members of the responder team.Ã?³

The third system, Agnes Healthcare, located in Florida, is comprised of a 299-bed, community teaching hospital, and numerous other specialty centers. It reviewed equipment and integrated system comprised of one company’s main station for response integrated with wireless phone equipment, and a joint venture company’s hands-free, voice-control ID badges. Streaming communications systems are the newest addition to the nurse call system.4

One can only guess at the next innovation in call systems. Maybe day they will have the power one to beam you up just like on Star Trek.

1. Murphy B. An integrated approach to nurse call. Press release from EDI, February 2004. Accessed via
2. Clochesy L. and Peterson S. Calling all caregivers., Health Management Technology, January 2001. Accessed via:

3. “Leading the Way with New Equipment,”
4. “Study Demonstrates that Wireless Voice Communication Positively Impacts Hospital Communications, Workflow, And Caregiver Satisfaction,” February 23, 2004,

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