As more and more physicians use handheld mobile technology in their day-to-day work, some critics are raising concerns about “distracted doctoring.”
Physicians, they fear, are distracted by the technology in two ways. The first is the temptation to use it for personal use — to visit Facebook, message friends, check e-mail, etc. — rather than focusing on more pressing matters at hand: their patients.
The second problem is that even when using the technology for professional reasons, physicians can become distracted. For instance, they may focus more on data input than the patient in the exam room with them.
“The iPatient is getting wonderful care across America,” Abraham Verghese, a physician and professor at the Stanford University Medical Center recently told the New York Times. “The real patient wonders, ‘Where is everybody?’”
Still, it’s clear that mobile health (mHealth) has its advantages. It’s impossible for physicians to know everything about every ailment their patients encounter — but handheld devices can help. If a physician encounters a question or a problem he can’t solve, knowledge is available to him right at his fingertips through his handheld device.
In addition, when physicians use mobile technology to access EHRs, they can view instantaneous up-to-date patient information anywhere, anytime.
Despite the potential for distractions, it’s clear that utilizing mHealth is well worth the risk. Still, distractions due to handheld technology can lead to disastrous mistakes.
“My gut feeling is lives are in danger,” Peter J. Papadakos, an anesthesiologist who recently published an article on electronic distraction in Anesthesiology News, told the Times. “We’re not educating people about the problem, and it’s getting worse.”
In a blog post appearing on IntraHealth International, an organization geared toward empowering health workers to better serve communities in need, Papadakos provided some tips for physicians when it comes to mHealth:
1. Separate personal and professional use: Physicians should dedicate one of their handheld devices to only their professional work. This device should be stocked with professional e-mail, messaging, and medical applications. It should not include Facebook or social networks or fun applications that can lead to distractions.
2. Develop new methods of interaction: When entering an exam room, physicians must first focus on the patient. Once introductions have been made, physicians should explain what technology they will be using and why.
3. Expand the physician-patient conversation: Physicians must treat the electronic device as a third person in the exam room. When interacting with the technology, physicians should explain their actions to the patient. When reviewing information on the device, they should turn back to the patient and share their findings.
The key to eliminating distractions Papadakos says, is teaching healthcare workers “how to balance this highly promising technology with an unbroken focus on the patient.”
What are your thoughts regarding criticisms of handheld devices? If you’re a smart-user of mobile technology, what tips can you share with your fellow physicians?