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Are You Distracted?

The New York Times ran an article this week written by Matt Richtel entitled, “As Doctors Use More Devices, Potential for Distraction Grows.” The concern is that due to the proliferation of computers, smart phones, iPads and other easily accessible technology, physicians and other health care professionals are focused less on the patient in front of them and more on the technology in their hands. Some of the examples cited in the article include:

  • A nurse checking airfares during surgery
  • Technicians in the OR texting or talking on cell phones
  • A surgeon talking on a cell phone with a wireless headset during surgery
  • Using computers in the ICU for online shopping
  • The preamble to The Physician Charter, a document approved by the American Board of Internal Medicine Foundation, American College of Physicians and the European Federation of Internal Medicine in 2002 and subsequently endorsed by many professional societies, starts with the following statement:

    Professionalism is the basis of medicine’s contract with society. It demands placing the interests of patients above those of the physician, setting and maintaining standards of competence and integrity, and providing expert advice to society on matters of health. The principles and responsibilities of medical professionalism must be clearly understood by both the profession and society. Essential to this contract is public trust in physicians, which depends on the integrity of both individual physicians and the whole profession.

    Could you defend the behavior of your colleagues (or your own) to patients, their families, and your community if, as a result of technology distraction, some harm came to someone they (or you) loved? We all know that there are enough challenges using health information technology for its intended purposes (see prior AmericanEHR blog posts here and here). Allowing technology to lure our attention away from the complex endeavor of caring for patients undermines the public trust and our contract with society to place the interests of patients above those of our own – and more importantly, could lead to avoidable patient harm.

    What do you think?

    Addendum 12/18/11

    Dr. John Halamka wrote a case study for AHRQ which he profiled on his blog. Read the case here.

    Addendum 1/5/12

    Here’s a recent American Medical News article on managing smartphone distractions.

    This post is the personal opinion of the author and does not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the American College of Physicians (ACP). ACP does not endorse a specific EHR brand or product and ACP makes no representations, warranties, or assurances as to the accuracy or completeness of the information provided herein.

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