The Troubling Trend of “Distracted Doctoring”


By now almost everyone has heard of the dangers of distracted driving along with the troubling statistics about the number of injuries and deaths the behavior causes. But have you heard about “distracted doctoring”? The New York Times recently reported on this troubling trend going on in many hospitals and clinics.

As medical records have become electronic, and hospitals have heavily invested in technologies to reduce medical errors, more health care providers have access to devices that can be useful, but also cause distraction leading to medical malpractice. Doctors can be distracted by computers, smartphones, iPads and any number of technological gadgets they now frequently have within reach.

For example, during one surgery a neurosurgeon made at least 10 personal calls using a wireless headset. The patient he was operating on was left partially paralyzed, likely the result of the physician being distracted. A peer-reviewed survey published in the journal Perfusion found that half of technicians who monitor bypass machines admitted to texting during surgeries. Other doctors report seeing colleagues check email, look up airfares and shop on Amazon or eBay in surgical intensive care units.

Dr. Peter J. Papadakos, from the University of Rochester Medical Center, published an article in the journal Anesthesiology News on the subject of “electronic distraction”. He stated that “My gut feeling is lives are in danger,” he added that “We’re not educating people about the problem, and it’s getting worse.”

At least one hospital has taken action and enacted a policy making operating rooms “quiet zones” and banning all activities not directed at patient care. Hopefully more hospitals will follow suit in the interests of preventing distracted doctoring and promoting patient safety.

Source: The New York Times, As Doctors Use More Devices, Potential for Distraction Grows, Matt Richtel, 14 December 2011

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