There was a big push to make medical records electronic, implement e-prescribing systems and use technology so physicians had instant access to patient data. Everyone thought all this technology was a good thing for patient safety, and it has provided many benefits.

Unfortunately, the easy availability of electronic devices has also caused what is being termed "distracted doctoring," which puts patients at risks for surgical injuries and other forms of medical malpractice.

The New York Times recently reported on this issue, and found that "distracted doctoring" is a trend that seems to be on the rise at hospitals. For instance, in a survey over half of those technicians who monitor bypass machines admitted they spoke on their cellphones while heart surgeries were taking place.

One patient was left partially paralyzed after a neurosurgeon made at least 10 personal calls on a wireless headset during an operation. There are other reports of healthcare providers using computers in intensive care units to check personal emails and shop online.

Dr. Charles Prober from Stanford Medical School explained the crux of the issue, "Devices have a great capacity to reduce risk," he said "But the last thing we want to see, and what is happening in some cases now, is the computer coming between the patient and his doctor."

After receiving complaints of nurses and physicians using their smartphones during times they should have been focused on patient care Dio Sumagaysay, the administrative director of over 20 operating rooms at Oregon Health and Science University hospitals, took action. Mr. Sumagaysay banned all activities in operating rooms not centered on patient care. Even after the policy was enacted, however, he needed to reprimand a nurse he witnessesed checking on airfare prices in the midst of a spinal operation.

Hopefully, if more hospitals and clinics develop policies similar to the one Mr. Sumagaysay enacted, the problem of distracted doctoring will diminish before it gets any worse.

Source: The New York Times, As Doctors Use More Devices, Potential for Distraction Grows, Matt Richtel, 14 December 2011