Recent technology has done wonders for the health care profession. Computers, smartphones and other devices have helped reduce medical errors by providing medical professionals with instant access to patient information, prescription details and case studies.
But what happens when technology comes between a doctor and his or her patient? In the age of iPhones, Facebook and instant messaging, the potentially dangerous phenomenon called “distracted doctoring” has opened the door for medical malpractice lawsuits and is becoming a growing concern for the medical profession.
Recent data suggests that the problem of distracted doctoring is even more widespread than researchers suspected. A survey of 439 medical technicians published in 2011 found that 55 percent of technicians who monitor bypass machines revealed that they had talked on cellphones during heart surgery. Half admitted to having texted while in surgery.
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These startling admissions led the authors of the study to conclude that “such distractions have the potential to be disastrous” in a medical setting. About 40 percent of the technicians agreed that talking on the phone and texting during surgery is “always an unsafe practice,” despite engaging in such practices themselves.
Seeing such misuse of technology, including surfing the web, checking email, and even shopping online while caring for patients is “not, unfortunately, uncommon” according to Dr. Stephen Luczycki, an anesthesiologist and medical director in one of the surgical intensive care units at Yale-New Haven Hospital.
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Accounts of technology-related medical mishaps abound. The New York Times, for example, highlighted an incident of one neurosurgeon who was distracted by a wireless headset that he used to make personal calls on his cellphone during a surgery. Tragically, the diversion of his attention left the patient partially paralyzed.
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Although computer technology has proven to be a useful and convenient tool for doctors to access information that could help them diagnose and treat their patients more effectively, the lure of instant-connectedness could be a double-edged sword for the medical profession and an open invitation for medical malpractice lawsuits. While the effect of distracted doctoring is not entirely known, it stands to reason that the potential for patient suffering exists in an environment of distraction and negligence.