The Law Firm of Leisawitz Heller

Are distracted doctors a menace to patient safety?

Although it seems to be more and more acceptable for cashiers and retail workers to be on their cell phones on the job, you may be among those who still feel it is inappropriate or rude, especially if you are at the counter trying to get a texting worker's attention. On the other hand, you may feel it's perfectly fine for people to text or scroll through Facebook on their phones while on the clock, as long as they aren't bus drivers or truckers.

What about your surgeon? It may shock you to know that more doctors use their cell phones in the operating room than ever before. You may not be the first to wonder if the rise of cell phone use in the OR relates to the drastic increase in surgical errors.

Phone in one hand, scalpel in the other

A Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine study reveals that the rate of medical errors may be nearly three times what previous studies found. The university study estimates about 250,000 people suffer annually from medical errors and more than a million patients are victims of medication mistakes each year. In the face of these numbers, you may feel Pennsylvania hospitals need to do more to improve patient safety.

Why, then, are doctors on their cell phones in the middle of surgery? Some explain that doctor's devices often contain medical apps with valuable information that surgeons may need at their fingertips in the middle of a procedure. Similarly, your doctors may need to access your patient records through his or her phone, which may help if a complication arises during your surgery. While these may seem like logical reasons, opponents of the practice point out the following:

  • One woman died as her doctor was texting, surfing the internet and posting on Facebook during heart surgery.
  • An anesthesiologist jeopardized another patient's life by sending inappropriate text messages instead of monitoring her vital signs.
  • Research shows that cell phones and mobile devices harbor bacteria and other contamination, which surgeons touch before putting their hands into open wounds.

You may agree with some advocates for patient safety who want hospitals to create policies regarding cell phone use in operating rooms. Such drastic measures may only come about if injured patients seek restitution through civil courts.

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