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Smartphone Addiction in Medical Settings a Serious Problem

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Smartphone Addiction Serious and Dangerous Problem

Many smartphone users will claim their phone as their “lifeline” or an “extension of their arm”.  I even came across a study that found that receiving a text message sends a small amount of dopamine to the brain of a smartphone user, sometimes leading to what is known as “phantom buzz” syndrome, or the sensation that your phone is buzzing when it actually isn’t.  Just like a drug addict, this small rush of dopamine can send a smartphone user to constantly seek another “high” through their smartphone use.  Not sounding too serious, you say?  Think again; smartphone addiction could mean the difference between life and death in some situations.

Medical Professionals Distracted by Smartphones

Distracted driving aside, lets talk about another area where smartphone users’ distraction can cause serious problems.  From acute care to respiratory centers, doctors, nurses and other medical professionals are becoming distracted by their smartphones, sometimes leading to perilous consequences for patients.  Peter J. Papadokos, an anesthesiologist and director of critical care at the University of Rochester Medical Center in NY, calls this “distracted doctoring”.    He stresses that it isn’t just doctors that are distracted, it’s all levels of medical professional staff.  He also says that our obsession with smartphones is a cultural phenomenon, and that it leads to serious problems when doctors must wade through family and junk emails while also receiving pertinent emails about patients and their care.

Four-Step Plan to Stop “Distracted Doctoring”

Fortunately, Dr. Papadakos says that there is a four-step plan to stem “distracted doctoring”, or any smartphone addiction, regardless of one’s profession.  Based on the CAGE model used for alcoholics, Dr. Papadakos recommends the following:

Step 1: Raise Awareness
Help people understand eDevice addiction and show them how to modify behavior.
Ask these modified CAGE Questions used for alcohol addiction to assess addiction (for yourself and your staff) to personal electronic devices (PED):

  • Have you ever felt you needed to cut down on use of your PED?
  • Have people annoyed you by criticizing your use of PED?
  • Have you felt guilty about your overuse of your PED at work?
  • Do you reach for your PED first thing in the morning?

Help establish healthy eDevice habits, such as:

  1. Silencing smartphones when entering the workplace
  2. Talking to family and friends about limiting non-essential communication (including texts) during work hours
  3. Restricting smartphone use to lounges, allowing only patient-related calls in the OR

Step 2: Build and enforce strict eDevice policy
Establish detailed rules for eDevice use in all patient care areas.
A good eDevice Code of Conduct should:

  • Clarify expectations for all staff to monitor themselves and their colleagues’ eDevice conduct
  • Outline standard practice for separate use of all personal and hospital-issued eDevices in the workplace
  • Establish how clinicians will explain to patients their use of hospital-issued eDevices for medical management (in preoperative and postoperative settings) to help the patient understand staff members are focused on patient care

Step 3: Create sacred space where eDevices are not permitted
Implement a No Interruption Zone.
Establish clear rules with every member of the surgical team to ensure NO interruptions from eDevices during these critical phases of the operative procedure:

Induction
Emergence
Time outs
Counting
Step 4: Teach by example
Be self-aware of eDevice behavior, follow established rules at work and practice good eDevice etiquette outside of work.

  • Make sure staff see you following your eDevice policy—no exceptions.
  • Extend this eDevice etiquette to all work interactions—no checking your email during meetings.
  • Develop healthy eDevice habits in your personal life; don’t text while driving and don’t look at your phone during face-to-face conversations.