Cellphone use is not generally restricted in the operating room, but some experts say the time for rules has come. In interviews, many described co-workers’ texting friends and relatives from the surgical suite. Some spoke of colleagues who hide a phone in a drawer and check it when they think no one is watching.
“Sometimes it’s just stuff like shopping online or checking Facebook,” said Dwight Burney, an orthopedic surgeon from Albuquerque. “The problem is that it does lead to distraction.” This can result in medical errors or lax safety procedures, such as forgetting to check a patient’s identity, he said.
No federal regulations or industry-wide quality measures address phone use in healthcare settings in general or in the O.R. specifically. And no group tracks whether hospitals have adopted rules for cellphone use.
But as people become increasingly glued to their phones, the lack of guidance could have big consequences.
In 2012, the ECRI Institute, a nonprofit that focuses on healthcare quality, listed cellphone distraction among the top 10 risks that technology could pose to patient safety.
Hospitals need to find a way to hold onto the benefits while keeping staffers from getting distracted.
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*Image of “surgeon” via Phalinn Ooi/Flickr/CC BY