Healthcare News & Insights

Are cell phones a help or hindrance in OR?

Surgeon-Using-Cell-PhoneMost hospitals don’t have a formal policy on the use of cellar devices in the operating room (OR). And according to industry experts, if you’re one of them, the time to create a policy is now. 

The American College of Surgeons, the Council on Surgical and Perioperative Safety (CSPS), the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons endorse, as well as individual physicians, have been calling into question the safety of using cell phones in the OR and pushing for formal policies to regulate their use.

Reason: Distractions cause a loss of concentration among surgical team members, which has been identified as a frequent contributor to surgical errors. If you’re looking at clinicians are looking at their cell phone, they aren’t looking at their patient or their monitors.

Case in point: In 2011 a Texas anethesiologist allegedly sent texts and emails while monitoring a patient. According to a report by Kaiser Health News, the patient’s oxygen levels dropped, but the anesthesiologist supposedly didn’t notice for nearly 20 minutes, and the patient died. The woman’s family sued, and the case was settled out of court.

Useful tool

Cell phones, tablets, etc., can be useful tools in the OR allowing medical professionals to immediately access patient records, treatment protocols and other useful info, but they can also provide a major distraction.

That’s why CSPS endorsed a safe surgery resource chart that warns medical professionals that the use of cell phones and accessories can be both a distraction and a bacterial contaminant that can compromise a sterile environment. The chart emphasizes attention to the elements of noise and distraction, infection control and privacy. Plus, it points out a multidisciplinary team approach is needed to reduce noise and provide a safe environment for patients.

The OR is a high-intensity environment where all team members need to concentrate in order to operate safely, and cell phones can create a huge distraction that can divert attention from the critical task at hand.

Liability issues

In a stressful environment such as the OR, mobile devices can also readily expose physicians, nurses, anesthesiologists, etc., to liability issues. And believe it or not, there aren’t any federal regulations or quality measures to address the use of mobile devices in the healthcare setting in general, let alone the OR.

And few medical professionals appreciate the legal ramifications of inappropriately using technology in the OR.

Using the internet in the OR is trackable and, in most medical facilities, it’s monitored and may be discoverable in court.

Deleting mobile texts or Facebook communications doesn’t mean much because they can be uncovered in a civil or criminal case during the course of discovery. This can lead to HIPAA violations if the communications included protected health information sent in an unsecure form. And HIPAA violations can result in major fines and jail time.

That’s why some organizations are pushing for hospitals to create their own specific policies on the use of cell phones, tablets, etc., in the OR.

If you’re thinking this isn’t really necessary because it only happens occasionally, this may surprise you:

In a December 2011 New York Times article by Matt Richtel that described the phenomena of computers, smartphones and other technology creating a distraction to patient care, 55.6% of perfusionists reported using a cellphone during the performance of cardiopulmonary bypass. In addition, anesthesiology trainees were found texting in the OR, a neurosurgeon was found talking on his cell during an operation and still other clinicians were on eBay on computers in the intensive care unit.

In 2012, the Economic Cycle Research Institute, a nonprofit that focuses on healthcare quality, included cellphone distraction in their top 10 risks that technology could pose to patient safety.

Hospital intervention

Some hospitals are taking the bull by the horns and implementing their own policies on mobile IT devices in the OR.

The University of Rochester Medical Center has instituted a policy that requires staff to silence their cell phones when working with patients and forbids using phones for personal matters at any clinical work station.

Another facility forbids staff to check email or browse the internet during cases.

But it’s hard to know if someone is checking out Facebook, shopping online or actually looking up medical information useful to the case at hand.

In the Kaiser Health News article, Paul Anderson, ECRI’s editorial director of patient safety risk and quality, said the best way to keep your facility as safe as possible is “to create a culture that discourages inappropriate distractions.”

 

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