A lot of attention was paid in 2011 to the dangers of driving while distracted. Media reports and safety campaigns have encouraged drivers to put down their mobile devices when behind the wheel. Many states and municipal authorities have enacted legislation to tackle the problem and protect residents from harm. However, a much less discussed story, one that is particularly concerning to our New York City medical malpractice law firm, is the issue of doctoring while distracted.
In December, the New York Times reported on a growing worry among medical schools and practitioners about “distracted doctoring.” The report notes that mobile devices can be a great asset to the medical field, providing immediate access to medical records or useful diagnostic information. However, many of the medical providers interviewed reported significant concern that devices were more of a distraction than an asset—often being used for personal matters unrelated to the medical task at hand. Texting, shopping, and even Facebooking have threatened the level of attention that doctors devote to the patient in front of them.
How extensive is the problem of distracted doctors and other medical providers?
The Times report referenced a study of heart-bypass technicians in which fifty-five percent admitted to using their cell phones during heart surgery and fifty percent confessed to texting during an operation.
The story also referenced a medical malpractice lawsuit involving a distracted doctor. In that case the patient was allegedly left paralyzed after a surgery as a result of the distracted surgeon. According to the patient’s attorney, the neurosurgeon conducted multiple phone calls using a wireless headset during the operation. The calls ranged from personal matters to business calls that were unrelated to the patient who was being operated on at the time. As is often the case in the medical malpractice arena, the case settled before trial so only limited details on the case are available.
Of course, modern technology can be a strong asset in the medical arena and a condemnation of distracted doctors is not a condemnation of all use of these materials in the medical setting. Many medical schools use electronic textbooks to allow students easier access to updated materials. Even experienced providers can benefit from research tools and the ability to consult with other professionals on complicated medical cases. It is, however, vital that the devices remain an asset and not a disruption. Doctors and other medical professionals should be encouraged to limit the distraction of electronic devices, particularly when dealing directly with a patient. At least one hospital director has instituted a “quiet rooms” policy which bans any operating room activity that does not focus directly on patient care, including the use of electronic devices.
As a New York City med mal law firm, our team understands that prevention is always preferable to post-injury litigation. We believe in representing individuals harmed by medical negligence but also in educating medical providers to avoid unnecessary risks. Technology has become an important part of twenty-first century life, and all of us are susceptible to being distracted by mobile devices. Yet, patients should be able to trust that their medical team is focused on their care, not distracted by a cell phone, tablet, or other piece of technology. It is vital that this modern-reality be addressed by medical schools, hospitals, and the authorities that govern the medical profession.
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