Distractions and interruptions are a fact of life in today’s healthcare environment, but that doesn’t mean a practice should simply accept them and the threat they pose to patient safety. Identifying the sources and frequency of distractions and interruptions allows for implementation of strategies to avoid or minimize at least some of them. Reviewing the use of personal electronic devices is an area of “low hanging fruit” where relatively straightforward, low-cost behavior modifications can make a significant difference.
While no one disputes that new technologies may bring a host of advantages to the clinical setting, adding them to an already chaotic healthcare environment can also interrupt workflow and distract from good patient care. As public awareness of this risk has grown, reports of near misses and medical errors resulting from the use of technology have increased. We now see advertisements encouraging anyone who believes they suffered a medical injury resulting from distraction to contact an experienced malpractice attorney, and plaintiffs’ attorneys use the discovery process during litigation to request the cell phone records of physicians which may be used as evidence. Several healthcare organizations have developed guidelines on the use of new technologies and a number of professional organizations, such as the American College of Surgery and the American Association of Nurse Anesthetists, have issued position statements regarding the use of mobile devices.
So how is this technology affecting your medical practice and how will you control the use of personal electronic devices in your medical setting? The first step is to educate clinicians and staff regarding the dangers of non-essential use of devices and the significant patient safety lapses they can cause. The next step involves an assessment of the potential risks based on the usage behaviors and patterns of your healthcare professionals. The results of your assessment will drive the policies needed, and those policies should clearly define what is acceptable behavior, what is unacceptable behavior and the consequences for breaching the policy.
Julie Loomis is Assistant Vice President of Risk Education for SVMIC where she develops educational programs and assists policyholders and staff with risk management issues. Ms. Loomis is a member of the Tennessee Bar Association and American Society of Healthcare Risk Managers (ASHRM). She serves on the Risk Management/Patient Safety Committee of the Medical Professional Liability Association. Ms. Loomis is a speaker on risk management and professional liability topics at industry seminars, medical schools and residency programs.
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