Recently, I was in a hospital elevator when three hospital employees walked up to it separately, all deeply concentrating on their smartphones. Their smartphones collided, and they looked up dazedly, sheepishly apologizing as they stepped on to the elevator. Then all three resumed communing with their smartphones. From where I stood I could see that at least two of them were not doing patient or work-related activities on their phones. I considered this research and not elevator eavesdropping.
By now everyone has heard of the dangers of cell phone and texting distraction while driving, although state laws banning or limiting cell phone use while driving seem to be scoff laws. Being a true Seattleite, I bike to work on our lovely Burke-Gilman bike trail. This used to be almost idyllic but now I have to watch for bikers on their phones, weaving as if they’re drunk. I am not a complete curmudgeonly Luddite: I own an iPhone, but I don’t use it while riding my bike, driving, or walking onto a hospital elevator.
A recent NYT article on distracted doctoring and distracted nursing highlights the extent of hospital personnel using smartphones, computers and other electronic devices for things other than work, including when they are doing patient care—even when they are doing surgery. (“As by Mike Richtel, 12-14-11). A neurosurgeon reportedly was talking on his cellphone (using a Use More Devices, Potential for Distraction Grows”wireless headset) during a surgery that got botched, leaving the patient partially paralyzed. An OR nurse in Portland was reprimanded for surfing an OR computer for airfares while she was covering a spinal surgery. And then for the truly frightening, over half of 439 technicians surveyed admitted to texting while monitoring heart bypass machines.
When my father was in the hospital last year, I noticed that his nurses spent much more time on the mobile computer stations outside of his room than they did in direct patient care. He had some terrific nurses, and they told me that they hated how much time they had to spend in checking and entering patient data in the computers. The legitimate use of technology in health care is all in the name of patient safety. But at what cost does it come in terms of the human interaction necessary as the core of all healing?
The angel statue in the photo is on a cellphone…