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“Distracted Doctoring”: A Dangerous New Trend

New Jersey residents would generally agree that it is common today to see people everywhere glued to their smartphones or tablets. But medical malpractice concerns can arise when these people are in the middle of performing their jobs – especially when those jobs involve matters of life and death.

Hospitals and medical schools are involved in heavy discussions about this problem, which has been nicknamed “distracted doctoring.” University of Rochester Medical Center anesthesiologist and director of critical care Peter J. Papadakos says that what he sees is “not funny” when walking around a hospital. He says he has seen employees at all levels “glued” to their phones and other devices.

Hospitals and doctors’ offices are usually the ones who give their doctors and staff these devices to help them do their jobs. Doctors say that the modern medical field puts pressure on them to have instant access to data and patient information. They say they need this technology and its many benefits.

However, recent cases show doctors have not only been too focused on their screens instead of their patients, but sometimes are not even doing work on them. Some examples are:

  • A nurse checking airfares in the middle of surgery
  • Technicians texting during bypass machine procedures
  • A neurosurgeon making calls during an operation
  • Technicians talking on phones while in surgery

A particularly disturbing example is a recent case in Colorado, in which a man was left partially paralyzed after an operation where the neurosurgeon made around ten personal calls on his cell phone during the operation.

Hospitals are starting to limit the use of these devices in critical settings. Some doctors have also made their operating rooms “quiet zones” and banned any activity not focused on patient care. In addition, many schools are reminding their students that their first priority should be their patient. However, students find this difficult because the schools are also giving them more devices to use at the same time.

Since distracted doctoring is still a new problem, little research is available. However, doctors and nurses who engage in these activities while performing their duties are at risk of committing medical malpractice.

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