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Distracted Doctors Use Smartphones During Surgery

We’ve all been warned of the immense dangers of driving while distracted. Countless auto accidents are caused in whole or in part by drivers who were not paying full attention to the road, usually because they were on a cell phone at the time. But the problem of distraction from high-tech gadgets exists in all parts of society, not just on our roads. In fact, our Illinois medical malpractice attorneys have been growing more and more worried that the distractions are reaching into hospitals and operating rooms.

AMED News touched on the issue this week, in a story which noted that even fellow medical professionals are warning their colleagues that they need to better manage the distraction of smartphones on the job. The problem is more widespread than most patients would ever image, and stories are continuing to roll in regarding those who have been severely hurt (and even killed) because of medical malpractice committed by distracted healthcare professionals. Of course doctors have long been dealing with certain kinds of necessary distractions, like incoming pharmacy calls and test results. But smartphones and similar gadgets are a different matter altogether.

Recent surveys show that more than 80% of all doctors carry smartphones and another 33% use other devices like iPads and tablets. Unlike former communication tools such as work-only pagers, a huge risk with these new devices is the chance for personal distraction. A recent study in the Journal of Medical Internet Research found that the average doctor is interrupted nearly five times per hour from phone calls, emails, and other interactions. Those distractions often take the physicians mind away from the task at hand of dealing with a particular patient. As everyone knows from every day experience-and psychologists have found-it is often difficult to get fully back into a task after distraction. The potential for errors are much higher after the distraction than otherwise would be the case if focus had not been diverted.

In the medical context, the risks are incredibly high. It is one thing to get write down a number wrong when working in a business setting, but it is much worse to make the same mistake when writing medication dosages down or otherwise making decisions that will affect one’s health.

In anonymous surveys large segments of doctors admit to mass-use of these devices on the job. A 2010 study of more than 400 perfusionists found that the majority used their cell phone in the middle of a cardiopulmonary bypass. Another 20% checked their email during the operation, and 15% even surfed the internet while the patient was having the operation. Amazingly a small, but still shocking 3% of surgeons posted on a social networking site in the middle of the surgery. Obviously, patients (and their families) would be aghast to know that the one whom they are entrusting with their life had their mind elsewhere at the exact moment when he or she needed to be focused.

Every Chicago medical malpractice attorney at our firm remains committed to helping negligence victims who have been hurt in situations like this. To prevent medical malpractice, all practitioners, hospital administrators, and others involved in the process must take steps to eliminate the distraction. Work and consumer-related functions on these devices can be isolated from one another. It may be appropriate for employer-supplied devices to be the only ones allowed in patient care. Also, rules and guidelines should be implemented mandating “quiet zones” where these devices are not permitted-such as near the operating table.

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