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Nursing Communication Part 1: A Trip Down Memory Lane

· Kim Tucker,

I was recently asked to write an article on smartphone usage by nurses (look for November issue of American Nurse Today 🙂 ) and it made me reflect on healthcare communication in general and nursing specifically.  So for the next few blogs I plan to focus on communication.  Figured a good place to start is to look at where we have been.

When I graduated from nursing school back in 1977, we had three basic forms of communication in the hospital—paper, talking, and overhead paging. Patients had buttons to “call” the nurses station and then we walked down to see what they wanted or if the hospital were really advanced we could call back into the patient’s room and ask. Oh, and since almost every room was semi-private, the other patient, family and visitors heard everything said over the speakers…if they worked.  But half the time, we couldn’t understand the request so we walked to the room anyway.  Since I worked night shift on med-surg unit, every overhead page or call back to a patient work usually woke someone up.  When I went to work in the emergency department, I didn’t have to worry about waking patients up anymore which was good since our most reliable communication was still walking around and calling. Some of you may remember wandering up and down hallway trying to find which nurse had the keys to the narcotic cabinet…no automated dispensing cabinets in those days.

Pagers came on the scene around 1974 but didn’t become widely used until the 1980s. The first ones didn’t have a display, couldn’t store messages, and had limited range.  Basically, they beeped and you knew to call a particular number to get your message.  This was useful for physicians who knew to call their answering service but didn’t do much for nurses.  Then pagers progressed to having a screen that could show you what number to call.  That is when pagers became popular for inpatient nursing.  House supervisors carried them, the code team carried them but the bedside nurses rarely did….at least in my experience.  Sometimes we had a shared one we could if we went off our unit…maybe to get something to eat or to go to a training class.  But pagers didn’t impact the communication between nurses and patients, we still used overhead paging and our feet to determine what patients needed.

So, do you remember these days?

Next time, I’ll focus on the “advances” in communication over the last 10 years.

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