Public Display of Electronics: Unwanted Distraction

kris.colenKristopher T. Kimmell, MD (left)
Neurosurgical Resident, University of Rochester Medical Center
Rochester, NY

Chaim B. Colen, MD (right) 
Young Physicians Representative Section of the CSNS
Grosse Pointe Woods, MI

Since the introduction of smartphones over the last decade, the proliferation of internet-enabled personal devices represents the most dramatic mass adoption of a technology in recent memory. These devices have dramatically changed nearly every aspect of life — from shopping to finding a taxi to dating. They have had a revolutionary impact on healthcare, as well. One component of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is a paradigm shift to electronic-based healthcare. Provider-patient interactions are increasingly documented electronically. As a result, smart-devices are no longer a luxury but a necessity in healthcare. In the neurosciences, smart phones serve as a:

However, not all that glitters is gold with these technological advancements. Medicine is still fundamentally a humanistic profession, with person-to-person contact still serving as the primary currency. The danger of having so many screens in the exam room, the clinic, or the operating room, is the potential to divide the attention of providers from the task at hand. Neurosurgery is no exception. Much of the work neurosurgeons perform requires the highest levels of concentration. Intrusion by a text message or phone call during a critical moment of an operation or patient visit is clearly not optimal.

PEDNeurosurgeons embraced the task of raising awareness about the distraction potential from PDE (public display of electronics). Taking cues from other industries, neurosurgeons have developed policies in their own operating rooms to limit the distracting potential of personal electronic devices. The risk of harm is very real, and plaintiff attorneys are certainly aware of the liability potential.

Unlike state legislation that has been passed to limit texting while driving, and official FAA policies binding electronics in the cockpit, no current laws govern physicians regarding the risk of PDE. Some healthcare institutions have developed guidelines for smartphone use at work, guided by negative publicity from high profile cases. Good judgment and common sense are key in developing policies in the clinic and operating room to attenuate the distracting potential of PDE. Several professional organizations, as well as state medical boards, are developing guidelines for physicians to apply to their workplace.

As team leaders in the operating room and the clinic, neurosurgeons are taking the lead to raise awareness of this issue to educate and motivate their colleagues to practice safe texting and avoid electronic distractions in patient care. Neurosurgeons take their duty to their patients very seriously, and are working to make this issue a priority to maintain the highest quality care.

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