Archive ORX Session Previews 2018

Distracted Doctoring

Put down your cell phones and turn away from computer screens to focus on what matters most: concentrated patient care.

Peter Papadakos

Peter Papadakos, MD


Peter Papadakos, MD, FCCM
Peter Papadakos, MD, FCCM

A word of warning: Peter Papadakos, MD, FCCM, will ask you (no, he'll tell you) to turn your cell phone off and lay it face down during his session about how electronic devices in the hands of doctors and nurses in the operating room can endanger patients. Dr. Papadakos's book, "Distracted Doctoring: Returning to Patient-Centered Care in the Digital Age," chronicles how the healthcare industry has been plagued by technological distractions.

Phone calls. Texting. Social media. Online shopping. These are all activities that go on in the operating room when surgeons and nurses should be caring for patients. In addition, the distraction of computer screens and electronic medical records can get in the way of concentrated patient care.

"We're breaking down our professionalism and our bonds with patients," says Dr. Papadakos. Since 2010, he's been tackling the issue of professional behavior in the digital era and the results of his research are striking.

  • A culture of distraction. The healthcare industry is not immune to the societal addiction to speed, technology and distraction, what Dr. Papadakos calls "hyperculture." Technology can be a powerful tool, but electronic devices are also powerfully addictive. It's hard to believe that a surgeon can browse Facebook while a patient is on the operating table, but it happens all too often.
  • Safety risk. A nidus for infection, phones and tablets are "the third hand nobody pays attention to," says Dr. Papadakos. You can wash your hands thoroughly and forget about the phone in your pocket. The problem, says Dr. Papadakos, is that our societal hyperculture has gotten ahead of our hospital culture. The tendency to check apps, browse the Internet, answer calls and text loved ones is so innate in this digital age that it is continually breaking the boundary of the sterile OR.
  • Malpractice slam-dunk. What would patients think if they knew they were putting their trust into this kind of care? Well, in many cases, they'll sue. And in a malpractice case, forget about having any defense when your entire web history is available to prosecutors.
  • Focus on patient care. Dr. Papadakos has been pushing hard to educate healthcare professionals on this issue. The road to changing the culture starts with self-realization, knowing the risks that devices pose in the OR and rethinking our relationship with digital tools. In the OR, it means calling out coworkers who get liberal with their phone use. Dr. Papadakos also advocates practicing concentration and close listening when dealing with patients, moving away from an addiction to multitasking and distraction and working one-on-one with priority No. 1: the patient.

If you have a teenager, you know that life can be a struggle to pry them away from their phones. Constantly scrolling, typing, chatting and who knows what else. Healthcare professionals really are no different from teenagers, says Dr. Papadakos. OSM

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