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#SMH: Is your doctor texting during surgery?

Do you remember going out to dinner with someone and beginning an intense conversation? Perhaps you had something important to tell, or you finally felt comfortable enough to share something personal. However, just as you were feeling a connection, the other person pulled out a cellphone and proceeded to scroll.

While having a device in hand is a common practice, you may agree that there are times when a person needs to give complete attention to what is happening. If you felt a minor betrayal when your dinner partner texted during your conversation, imagine how it feels when your surgeon is texting during your operation.

Doctors defend their phone use

Apparently, having their phones with them during surgery allows doctors to access information quickly if a problem arises during surgery. Instead of waiting while someone from the medical team finds the information in a book or on an office computer, the surgeons can easily access databases, including your medical information, from their phones without dangerous delays during your procedure. However, patient advocates have many concerns about this practice, including:

  • Doctors are using their phones for other reasons besides research while in the operating room.
  • Cellphones are notorious for carrying bacteria.
  • Cellphones typically don't have security strong enough to protect confidential patient information.

More than half of all doctors use unsecure text messages to relay patient information, and many store such information on their phones without password protection. However, while this carelessness with your vital information may worry you, the cellphone itself may present a more immediate danger.

You don't have to be a germaphobe to be afraid of germs

No one has yet done a study on the amount and kinds of germs the average cellphone carries, but you can think about the places where your phone often ends up and let your imagination take it from there.

One study found that four out of five doctors carry contaminated phones into surgery with them, and Indiana hospitals typically do not have procedures in place for disinfecting them. During your surgery, if your doctor pulls his phone from his pocket, he is likely not re-sterilizing his hands or even changing his gloves before he places them back into your surgical opening.

What's really happening in there?

The other urgent concern is the distraction the phone creates in a doctor's hand. Lawsuits are now in progress against doctors whose phones indicate they were making personal calls, sending inappropriate texts, surfing the internet and taking pictures during critical surgical procedures. In several instances, the patient died, although no direct connection has yet been made to the use of a cellphone.

Reports and studies reveal terrifying data concerning the recent rise in surgical errors, approximately 250,000 a year. Each day, one person in the country dies from a medical mistake. Hospitals and government agencies are discussing checklists and protocol to prevent such accidents. Is it possible that the solution to preventing many of these errors is for doctors to leave their cellphones out of the operating room?

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