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Texting During Surgery?! The Risks of 'Distracted Doctoring'


To help prevent medical errors and give doctors and nurses speedy access to patient records, doctors' offices and hospitals are using more portable computers and smartphones.

It's a good idea, with many benefits, but there's also been an unexpected downside, reports the New York Times: A state of "distracted doctoring," in which surgeons have made personal calls during an operation, a nurse has used her phone to check airfares during surgery, and half of technicians running heart bypass machines have admitted texting during a procedure.

"My gut feeling is lives are in danger. We're not educating people about the problem, and it's getting worse," anesthesiologist Peter J. Papadakos, MD, director of critical care at the University of Rochester Medical Center, told the newspaper.

He recently published a report on "electronic distraction" in the journal Anesthesiology News, in which he noted that a new study found that nurse anesthetists and residents were distracted by things like surfing the Internet in 54 percent of cases, "even when they knew they were being watched!"

A 2010 survey of 439 medical technicians, published in the cardiovascular journal Perfusion, found that nearly half had sent texts while performing cardiopulmonary bypass. The survey found that 55 percent had used a cell phone, 21 percent had checked their email and 15 percent had used the Internet.

The medical director of a surgical intensive care unit told the Times he has seen his colleagues using the computer in the unit during surgery for "Amazon, Gmail, I've seen all sorts of shopping, I've seen eBay. You name it, I've seen it."

Ironically, nearly 80 percent of the technician survey respondents said they believe that cell phones can introduce a significant safety risk to patients; more than half agreed that texting during a procedure was "always an unsafe practice."

None of the doctors are saying electronic devices should be banned -- just used in a more responsible, safe manner.

You know, like not texting while driving?

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