Why Cellphone Use is Soaring in the Operating Room

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People are often asked to turn off their cellphones in movie theaters, restaurants, classrooms and a number of other settings in which cellphone use can be an unwelcome distraction.

But what about in the operating room, the place where you expect your doctors to focus their full attention on you and your surgery?

Shockingly, new reports show that many doctors, surgeons and other operating room staff are using their cellphones while on the job -- and they're not exactly looking up vital medical information on their phones.
Shockingly, new reports show that many doctors, surgeons and other operating room staff are using their cellphones while on the job — and they’re not exactly looking up vital medical information on their phones.

Shockingly, new reports show that many doctors, surgeons and other operating room staff are using their cellphones while on the job — and they’re not exactly looking up vital medical information on their phones.

According to a July 15 PBS NewsHour article, operating room staff are known to use their cellphones to text friends, check their social media feeds or even shop online during surgeries. The result: a huge distraction that makes surgeons unable to give their full attention to their patients. Medical errors and neglected safety procedures have been known to stem from operating room cellphone use.

In 2011, for example, a Texas anesthesiologist allegedly sent text messages and emails from his smartphone while monitoring a patient. The anesthesiologist didn’t notice that the 61-year-old patient’s oxygen levels had dropped for nearly 20 minutes; as a result, the patient died in surgery.

To combat this troubling trend, a growing number of physicians, doctors and organizations like the American College of Surgeons and the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons are pushing for stricter rules on cellphone use in the operating room.

When surgeons and surgeons’ assistants are glued to their smartphones, it’s not just an issue of patient safety, however. Operating room staff may be more likely to suffer slips, trips and falls while distracted by their phones — and these injuries already lead to more than 95 million lost days of work per year. Additionally, many doctors have raised concerns about the potential for noise-related distractions, as well as the challenge of infection control.

Currently, no federal or industry-wide regulations exist to address cellphone use in either the general healthcare sector or the operating room setting, PBS reported. Individual hospitals’ rules vary widely.

Yet as more healthcare professionals push for a crackdown on cellphone use, it might not be long before a set of rules is established.

“Once we get into or start using our cellphones, we separate ourselves from the reality of where we are,” Peter Papadakos, a professor of anesthesiology, surgery, neurology and neurosurgery at the University of Rochester, said. “It’s self-evident: If you’re staring at a phone, you’re not staring at the monitors.”

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