Distracted Doctoring is a Workplace Safety Issue

Surgery” by Army Medicine

I came across a fascinating article (Richtel, 2011) posted on the New York Times. The article talked about doctors, nurses, and other hospital staff who are distracted by texting, surfing the web, doing online shopping, and/or using social networks (e.g., Facebook).

The NY Times article said that the unintended consequence of depending on computers and smartphones to access patient data, drug information, and patient care resources is that doctors and nurses are now fixated on these devices and not their patients, even during critical care (such as during an operation).

Examples include a neurosurgeon who, instead of focusing on the surgery, was making a personal phone call or a nurse who was checking airfares during surgery. Forget distracted driving, let’s talk about distracted doctoring!

Results from an October 2010 online survey posted on a perfusion* listserv and forum revealed that use of a cell phone during the performance of cardiopulmonary bypass (CPB) was reported by 55.6% of perfusionists, and sending text messages while performing CPB was acknowledged by 49.2% (Smith, Darling, & Searles, 2011).

*In basic terms, cardiopulmonary bypass (CPB) refers to using a heart-lung machine to take over the function of the heart and lungs during surgery and maintain blood and oxygen flow throughout the body.

Ironically, while many perfusionists believed that cell phone use raises significant safety issues when operating the heart-lung machine, the majority of them have used a cell phone while performing this activity.

According to the Institute of Medicine,

  • Between 44,000 to 98,000 Americans die as a result of medical errors every year.
  • Medication-related mistakes for people who are hospitalized cost about $2 billion annually.
  • Medical mistakes/errors kill more Americans per year than breast cancer, AIDS, or motor vehicle accidents.

The NY Times article summed this up well:

“Doctors and medical professionals have always faced interruptions from beepers and phones, and multitasking is simply a fact of life for many medical jobs. What has changed, doctors say, especially younger ones, is that they face increasing pressure to interact with their devices.”

Just as in distracted driving, one might ask the rhetorical question:

“What is so important that it just can’t wait until after you’re finished?” Or “What’s so important that you can’t hold off until after performing the operation?”

References

Institute of Medicine. The Chasm in Quality: Select Indicators from Recent Reports Retrieved from http://mem.iom.edu/?id=14991

Richtel, M. (December, 2011). As Doctors Use More Devices, Potential for Distraction Grows. The New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2011/12/15/health/as-doctors-use-more-devices-potential-for-distraction-grows.html

Smith, T., Darling, E., & Searles, B. (2011). 2010 Survey on cell phone use while performing cardiopulmonary bypass. Perfusion, 26(5), 375-380. doi:10.1177/0267659111409969