Hospitals Grapple With How To Handle Providers’ Use of Cellphones

July 22, 2015 in News

Hospitals are struggling to develop policies on doctors’ use of mobile phones during surgery, The Atlantic reports.

There currently are no federal regulations or industrywide quality measures addressing cellphone use in surgery or general care. As a result, doctors generally can use their cellphones during surgery without restriction, The Atlantic reports.

However as providers’ cellphone use increases, some experts are calling for rules to govern the practice.

Pros and Cons of Cellphone Use

The ECRI Institute in 2012 listed distraction from mobile phones as one of the top 10 patient safety risks resulting from technology use.

Dwight Burney, an orthopedic surgeon, noted mobile phone use during surgery can “lead to distraction,” which can sometimes cause staff to fail to adhere to safety procedures or result in medical errors.

For example, a Texas-based anesthesiologist in 2011 was allegedly texting and sending emails from a phone during surgery and did not notice the patient’s oxygen levels had dropped for nearly 20 minutes. The patient died during the surgery. The patient’s family sued the anesthesiologist, and the case was settled before trial.

According to The Atlantic, such incidents have led provider groups to warn about cellphone use during surgery and call for clearer rules on whether and how mobile phones can be used during surgery.

However, some providers argue smartphones can serve as a key health care resource by allowing staff to:

  • Communicate with other staff members not present during surgery; and
  • View patient information, such as lab results.

Chandan Devireddy, a cardiologist and associate professor of medicine at Emory University, noted smartphones allow providers “to address patient care issues … much faster.”

Some Hospitals Take Action

According to The Atlantic, some hospitals have started to address the issue.

For example, the University of Rochester Medical Center requires staff to keep their mobile phones on silent while working with patients. In addition, the hospital prohibits the use of cellphones for personal matters while at all “clinical work stations,” including operating rooms.

Devireddy said “more and more hospitals are playing catch-up” on creating cellphone use policies.

He said, “The idea of eliminating mobile phones is, I think, a very restrictive one.” Instead, Devireddy suggested hospitals find ways to leverage the benefits of mobile phone use, while preventing distractions from the technology (Luthra, The Atlantic, 7/20).

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