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Are Mobile Devices a Source of Distraction?

December 15, 2011
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Some urge limiting the use of mobile computing devices in the workplace

Most people realize, I like to think, that talking on the cell phone or texting while driving is very dangerous. People are enamored of their smartphones and other devices, and many continue to use them while behind the wheel, despite the risk of causing an accident. Unfortunately, it’s also difficult to prevent.

Now some are raising the alarm about the use of smartphones and other mobile devices by medical staff. The phenomenon, described in an article in today’s article in the New York Times as “distracted doctoring,” is serious enough for some hospitals to limit the use of certain devices in critical care settings, while medical schools have been reminding students to keep their focus on the patient, not the gadget.

The article quotes Peter J. Papadakos, M.D., an anesthesiologist and director of critical care at the University of Rochester Medical Center, who complains that he has observed physicians and nurses, and other medical personnel using their medical devices at inappropriate times. Such devices are justified for medical records, but not for personal activities such as using Facebook, he says. In his view, the practice endangers lives, and the problem is getting worse.

The Times article also points to research supporting this view. Perfusion, a peer-reviewed journal, has published a survey of 439 medical technicians, and found that 55% of those who monitor bypass machines said they talked on cellphones during heart surgery and half said they texted during surgery.

I think this is an urgent issue that needs to be addressed quickly. The use of mobile devices is on the rise, driven by their portability, ease of use, and increasing number of applications. This is all to the good, and mobile devices have become a critical component in clinician buy-in as hospitals move to medical records.

CIOs I have spoken with point to challenges in network connectivity and maintaining security as personal mobile devices become more widely used in hospitals. I would be interested in hearing from CIOs about “the “distracted doctoring” phenomenon. Is this a problem in your hospital, and what do you think could, and should, be done to make sure the devices are used appropriately? “Distracted driving” has proven difficult to control on the road. Will “distracted doctoring” short-circuit the benefits of mobile devices in hospitals?