It seems that the cast can get to know almost anything just by reading the page that they get: whether there's an emergency with a patient or where they are being called to?

I thought pagers just showed a particular number which the doctor had to call separately to find out what the emergency was, at least that's what I noticed many a times in other medical shows such as Scrubs. Or is it that since Scrubs began in 2001 and House MD in 2004, the pagers have improved in that span?

  • 4
    FYI, We still use pagers in the hospital I work at, but we are switching to smartphones soon. Also, the pagers are how we communicate with eachother. We send codes to eachother on them. Mostly it's sending codes to Doctors regarding the status of a patient :) Feb 7, 2016 at 17:09
  • @steelerfan is right, a lot of hospitals still use pagers. I did at the hospital I worked at about a year ago. It depends on if the pagers use numerical codes or text. Some pagers will just have a code that means something like "Needed urgently", followed by a room or office number. Pagers that can display more complicated text can say anything. Such as "Patient [Last Name] transferred to ICU room 13 on 3rd floor".
    – Atticus
    Feb 8, 2016 at 3:43

3 Answers 3


There are several reasons why pagers are still being used by medical professionals in a hospital setting. I am a nurse working in a hospital setting and although there have been discussions about moving to smartphones, pagers are still the preferred form of communication.

Pagers offer several advantages over smartphones:

  • Information must be able to be reliable. Cellular networks cannot always be reliable

  • There is no need to charge a pager

  • There is high cost to maintain a smartphone account for a hospital

  • There is risk of security breaches. HIPAA violations can easily be breached using a smartphone

  • There is always a signal available with a pager

  • There is no need to sort through other messages. The pager simply alerts the hospital staff with the code that they are needed for.

99% of the time that a physician receives a page, it is within the hospital, receiving status on a patient or being called to an emergency. These are communicated through codes throughout the hospital that all staff is aware of.

  • Thanks for the cool information on hospital pager use, but I believe the question is about how the pagers are used, not why they're used.
    – ghostdog
    Feb 9, 2016 at 15:35
  • @ghostdog Well, the OP stated in the question that they thought that pagers showed a particular number and also wanted to know if it was strictly used while being called to an emergency. Feb 9, 2016 at 15:53
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    I speak from experience when I say that pagers don't always have reception. They tend to use the same cellular networks as mobile phones, and hence suffer the same liability from "dead-zones" in some areas.
    – user7812
    Feb 9, 2016 at 17:53
  • @Richard In my over 10 years working in hospitals, I have never had problems with "dead-zones" when it comes to pagers. Feb 9, 2016 at 18:00
  • @steelerfan - I had a pager for several years. We had a basement office and getting pages was a constant nightmare
    – user7812
    Feb 9, 2016 at 18:41

Pager technology has always allowed arbitrary alphanumeric (A-Z, a-z, 0-9, some special characters) messages of various lengths. How they are used depends on the person or company using them. Typically, short medical codes can be used, to indicate a longer or complicated situation, but proper length messages can be sent as well. Pagers can scroll messages that are longer than the display, so they are not limited to 10 or 16 or n Characters. Depending on the service really, as some have a 240 character limit. Text messages, aka SMS, in comparison are limited to 160 ASCII characters.

Tangent: No different than SMS, except most pager companies have dedicated hardware/antenna, and for medical contracts, have some minimum guaranteed service contracts. These service contracts dictate downtime, message delivery times, etc.

SMS is a fairly faulty protocol and has somewhere like 10% failure rate, requiring 15~20% resend rate. SMS is an (ab)use of the cellular side bands, bands that are normally used for control between a cell phone and tower. SMS is a giant cluster hack of a technology. SMS/Cellular technology, mainly the wavelength/bandwidth being used, was previously very bad at wall penetration, while Pager tech had much better coverage. Distance was also a factor (Cellular cell sites are often >20 miles at best, Pager sites are 100+ miles). There is also the usage of Simulcasting/broadcasting of Pager messages among multiple cells, while Cellular technology will only connect on a single cell tower. There are multiple technological reasons for Pager technology still being persuasive.

As we never see the messages on House, it's speculation on whether it is code or text.


I know this is a little late, but here is what is shown in a pager in S1E9 of House.




GILES - RM. 324

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