We all know that texting while driving is extremely dangerous, and that doing so can cause fatal accidents. However, the dangers associated with smartphones are not only limited to driving. According to a recent article published on the American Medical Association’s website, an increasing number of our healthcare providers are using their smartphones while performing procedures, or rendering medical care and treatment. Moreover, there is anecdotal evidence suggesting that doing so has resulted in preventable medical errors and harm, and that the distractions smartphones cause may worsen the care patients receive.
The article’s author notes that 80% of all physicians currently in practice carry smartphones, such as an iPhone or Android. Additionally, approximately 33% of currently practicing physicians and other healthcare providers use tablet computers, such as the iPad, when rendering care and treatment. Unfortunately, these now-ubiquitous devices bombard people with information, and often cause distractions when an incoming email or text message is received.
According to an August 2011 study published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research, physicians are interrupted approximately five times each hour by telephone calls, emails, and interpersonal interactions. Furthermore, a recent study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine concluded that when nurses are interrupted while preparing or administering medications, the chances of a procedural or clinical error increase 12%. What’s scarier is that a 2010 survey demonstrated that over 50% of perfusionists use their smartphones while delivering patient care, including cardiopulmonary bypasses. Of the respondents, 21% stated that they checked email, 15% surfed the Internet, and 3% posted to social networking sites, such as Facebook, while performing procedures.
The AMA articles also discussed the frightening case of one medical professional who became distracted when answering a text. As a result, one of the provider’s patients was severely injured. In that instance, a 56 year-old patient who had been admitted to an teaching hospital needed to have his gastrostomy tube (G-tube) replaced. Before it could be replaced, however, his blood thinners needed to be stopped. The physician thus instructed the resident rounding with him to issue a stop order. The resident began entering the stop order via her smartphone, which could access the hospital’s computerized physician order entry system. However, before completing the order, the resident received a text from a friend, who asked if the resident was attending an upcoming party. The resident answered her friend’s text, but forgot to complete entering the order to stop the patient’s blood thinners.
As a result of the resident’s failure to issue the stop order, the patient erroneously received blood thinners, and subsequently developed shortness of breath, an increased heart rate, and low blood pressure. The patient required open-heart surgery to remove the blood accumulating in the pericardium, which is the sac surrounding the heart. The patient’s medical team ultimately concluded that the resident’s failure to issue the stop order caused the excessive bleeding, and the resulting need for open-heart surgery. The AMA article quoted John Halamka, M.D., M.S., the author who reported this unfortunate, but preventable, situation, as saying “Cognitive psychologists who said that no matter how well-trained [doctors] are, it is still better to complete a task than to try to engage in parallel tasks.”
The advent of smartphones has made communicating much easier. However, the distractions they cause may result in devastating consequences. The medical establishment must institute far-reaching, comprehensive policies and procedures to limit the problems that smartphone distractions may cause. If it fails to do so, patients may be subjected to life-changing harm, and forced to endure horrific consequences.
Read the entire article from the AMA website here:
You can also read Dr. Halamka’s case study here: