Advances in technology have enabled us all to be connected in ways unimaginable just a few years ago. From practically anywhere, we can send and receive texts and emails, pull up websites, and use apps to access a wealth of information with a push of a button. A recent New York Times article highlighted how computer and smartphone technology has also made its way into the hospital setting and surgery room.
Admittedly, these technologies can be wonderful tools for improving the health and well-being of our patients. But we can quickly lose sight of the very real downside these gadgets can pose to our patients. It would seem to be common sense that personal calls, texts, and online surfing have no place in the operating room, in our clinics, or in hospital areas where patient care is ongoing.
As these devices become even more ubiquitous and the pressure to immediately respond and constantly check in can be great, we must recognize that we cannot focus on our patients if we are simultaneously glued to our smartphone or tablet. Just as there has been a great deal of awareness about the dangers of texting or talking on a cell phone while driving (or even walking!), we must focus awareness on the patient safety risks with the same technology-related problems.
As physicians, our priority is always the patient. To this end, we need to eliminate unnecessary distractions when we are taking care of our patients. Hospitals and medical practices should develop and institute firm policies about how and when these technologies can be used…and when they cannot.