First Driver Distraction, Now ‘Doctor Distraction,’ Threatens Lives


Posted on 16th December 2011 by gjohnson in Uncategorized

, ,

Distracted driving had been a hot topic this year, with states and federal officials passing laws banning the use of cellphones and texting by drivers. But these devices are now being blamed for causing “distracted doctoring,” with physicians and nurses being accused of paying more attention to their new-media gear than their patients.

The New York Times Thursday outlined the problem in a Page One story, where it reported that “some hospitals have begun limiting he use of devices in critical settings, while schools have started reminding medical students to focus on patients instead of gadgets.”

The Times quoted an official from the University of Rochester Medical Center who was disturbed by the doctors and nurses that he has spotted using iPhones, iPads and computers. That official, Dr. Peter Papadakos, authored a recent article on “electronic distraction” for Anesthesiology News, according to The Times.

Another article in the medical journal Perfusion talked about research that found roughly half  of the techs who are in charge of bypass machines had chatted on their cellphones and texted during heart surgery.

If you believe these fears about doctor distraction are overstated, try this on for size. In Denver a patient whose left side became partly paralyzed after surgery filed a medical malpractive suit, The Times reported. Guess what the neurosurgeon was doing during the surgery? Talking on his cellphone via a wireless headset. The case was settled before trial.

In another eyebrow-raising anecdote, a doctor at Yale-New Haven Hospital told The Times that he has seen youthful anesthesiolgists in the OR using a compuer during surgery, for tasks such as checking their email. In the intensive care unit, this doctor has seen his colleagues use computers to shop on Amazon and eBay.

A hospital in Oregon, according to The Times, has made operating rooms “quiet zones” that prohibit multi-tasking that isn’t specificaly related to a patient.

As many of the doctors quoted by The Times said, computers and iPads are a boon that can help prevent errors by giving physicians immediate access to patient records and data.

But the patient must not be neglected while doctors fiddle with these devices during surgery.