Distracted Doctoring Increases Patient Risk

In the last few years, we have all heard of the dangers of “distracted driving.” We know that the brain cannot effectively multi-task, and that driving while texting or viewing things on your phone can be deadly. What you might not know, however, is that the problem of becoming distracted by your cell phone has crept into hospitals all over the country. This phenomenon is sometimes called “distracted doctoring.” There are a disturbing number of studies and cases that show distracted doctoring is becoming more widespread than you might think.

A distracted doctoring case in Texas sums up the problem. In 2011, a 61 year-old woman named Mary Milne died during a rather routine heart procedure to correct an irregular heartbeat. According to the facts alleged in the lawsuit, her anesthesiologist failed to notice her dangerously low blood oxygen levels for 15 to 20 minutes. When Mary’s attorney took his deposition, the anesthesiologist admitted that sometimes during a surgery he will read books on his IPad, check emails or post to Facebook while he was supposed to be monitoring the patient’s vital signs.

The Texas case isn’t the only instance of distracted doctoring. A 2011 survey of perfusionists, the specialist that monitors heart-lung machines during bypass surgeries, showed that fifty-five percent of perfusionists admitted to using a cell phone during a bypass surgery. Forty-nine percent admitted to sending text messages. Another study, conducted by the American Society of anesthesiologists, concluded that “nurse anesthetists and residents were distracted by something other than patient care in 54% of cases—even when they knew they were being watched.” Worse, “[m]ost of what took their time were pleasure cruises on the Internet.”

An article in the New York Times about distracted doctoring told the story of a Colorado patient who was paralyzed during a surgery by a doctor that used a wireless headset to make at least 10 personal telephone calls to friends during the surgery.

Technology can be used to increase patient safety and I am hopeful that modern medicine will result in a higher standard of care, but we all need to be aware of the dangers of distracted doctoring. If you have suspicions that distracted doctoring might have resulted in harm, please give us a call for a free consultation.

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