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Why patients should be concerned about smartphones in the OR

Unfortunately, the degree to which people are transfixed by their smartphones is perhaps no longer quite as shocking as it once was. In fact, chances are very good that you've witnessed everyone from motorists and truckers to pedestrians and bicyclists either talking or texting while in motion, completely oblivious to their surroundings.

What is shocking, however, is that this problem of people being dangerously distracted by their smartphones is no longer confined to just roads, highways, sidewalks and bike trails. Indeed, recent reports show it's expanding to such sacrosanct venues as exam rooms and, worse yet, operating rooms.

If you have a hard time believing it, consider that the ECRI Institute, a highly influential nonprofit, identified smartphone distraction as one of the top ten technology risks to patients back in 2012.

More recently, professional groups like the American College of Surgeons and the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons have sounded the alarm about smartphones in the OR, identifying them as not just a cognitive distraction to medical professionals, but also as a possible noise distraction.

Furthermore, a group of physicians recently published a paper on behalf of the American Society of Anesthesiologists, calling for hospitals or healthcare agencies to start exploring the issue and making the necessary rules.

While a small number of hospitals have already introduced policies restricting smartphone use in the OR, there are still no federal regulations or national quality measures in place, and no organization tracking progress on this issue.

Interestingly enough, however, many medical experts and physicians alike are actually urging hospitals not to adopt blanket bans on the use of smartphones in the OR.

Specifically, they contend that these devices can provide instant access to everything from patient information and lab results, and enable communication with colleagues and access to the wealth of online medical information.

The better solution, they argue, is to foster the growth of a hospital culture that discourages what could be fairly classified as inappropriate and dangerous distractions in the OR, such as taking your eyes off a monitor to send a personal text or check social media.

It remains to be seen how this issue will be addressed going forward. However, it's easy to see how those hospitals that allow this practice to go unchecked will leave patients open to serious medical mistakes and see lapses in safety protocol.

What are your thoughts on this matter?

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