Bioethics Blogs

Our Devices, Our Selves: How to Avoid Practicing Distracted Doctoring

By Laura Vearrier

Americans check their phones an average of 46 times per day, (Eadicicco 2015) and they do so no matter what they are doing, including while driving, while at church, during sex, or out to dinner. (Rodriguez 2013) Are healthcare providers any different?  In a survey of medical students, 46 % reported texting, checking email, or making a call on their personal devices during a patient encounter, and 93% had seen a senior resident or attending do so. (Tran et al. 2014)  The answer to this problem is not as simple as turning off the device.  Improvements to medical care afforded by personal devices include efficient access to electronic text books, up-to-date literature, medical apps such as dosing calculators, and improved provider connectedness, among others.  The flip side is that the inevitable distraction created by smartphones creates a threat to professionalism in healthcare…

“Distracted doctoring” is considered a disturbing trend as consequences can be as fatal as distracted driving.  Most hospitals operate under a “Bring Your Own Device” (BYOD) policy that allows employees to use their personal devices in the healthcare setting.  Personal devices create a constant source of distraction – even when a phone is not buzzing due to an incoming call, text message, app notification, or email, the compulsion to check the phone, and possibly browse social media or the news, remains for many.  Even if a provider takes out his or her phone for a professional purpose, such as to look up medication interactions, smartphone designs makes it almost impossible to ignore the texts or alerts that have appeared since the user last looked at the phone.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.