Healthcare News & Insights

Experts: Doctors may be distracted by mobile devices

We’ve reported before on the potential for tablets and other mobile devices to improve care and efficiency in medical practices. But organizations also must take steps to make sure those tools don’t become distractions that lead to dangerous medical errors. 

Though mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets have a lot of benefits, they also have a downside in their capacity to distract doctors from patient care.

That’s the issue that recently prompted the chief information office at Beth Israel, a teaching hospital for Harvard Medical School, to issue a warning to doctors about mobile device dangers, as Kaiser Health News and NPR report.

Those devices constantly display notifications about text messages, emails, Facebook updates and other electronic communications. If doctors were using gadgets that were strictly there for professional use, hospitals might be able to enact controls to limit those distractions. The problem, though, is that doctors often bring their personal devices into work.

So what are hospitals doing about it? Many hospitals issue policies about using smartphones while working, and some are looking into software that can allow doctors to separate a device’s personal and professional uses, according to the Kaiser/NPR report.

Also, it may help to offer periodic reminders about the dangers that those distractions can cause. When doing so, it’s important to think about not only doctors, but also any staff members who could potentially put patients in danger.

For example, one study found that 55% of medical technicians charged with monitoring bypass machines admitted to talking on cell phones during surgery. Half also admitted to sending or reading text messages while in surgery.

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