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Distracted doctoring can lead to medical malpractice claims

Patients in California hospitals would naturally hate to have to compete with their doctor’s smartphone for his or her attention. Advocates of patient safety are concerned about the increasing number of incidents where patients are harmed by medical errors of physicians and other healthcare personnel who are distracted by their cell phones. A significant number of medical malpractice lawsuits in recent years arose from such distractions.

It was reported that, in some cases, surgeons, anesthesiologists and other medical caregivers were found to be surfing the Internet, texting and even posting on Facebook while busy in surgery. In addition to affecting individual efficiency, smartphones also interfere with highly technical medical equipment. These devices may also carry viruses and bacteria that can pose infection hazards in operating rooms and other areas of a hospital.

Some of the cases that involved smartphone use include:

  • The transmission of the Ebola virus in Uganda was linked to contaminated mobile phones.
  • After a patient’s death in a hospital in Dallas, an anesthesiologist was accused of failing to monitor the patient’s blood-oxygen levels for between 15 and 20 minutes. Investigators found an image of the monitoring equipment on Facebook, posted by an anesthesiologist during a surgery at another occasion, with a comment about having to spend Christmas morning watching this tube.
  • At a medical center in Boston, a system is used by which doctors can issue instructions via smartphones. While a resident doctor entered an order to discontinue blood-thinning medication of a particular patient, she received an incoming text message about a party. She apparently answered the message and forgot to continue typing the medication order. The patient ultimately required emergency open heart surgery after the blood thinning medication was administered for another three days.
  • An anesthesiologist in Washington lost his license after investigations revealed that some of the 23 cases where he was texting while busy with patients occurred during surgical procedures such as cesarean deliveries.

There is no doubt that smartphones offer improved communication and quick data access for providers of healthcare. However, the safety of patients should never be compromised. California residents who have suffered the consequences of distracted doctoring may choose to retain the services of an experienced medical malpractice attorney to pursue legal action in an effort to recover any resulting monetary losses.

Source: bendbulletin.com, “Is your surgeon focused on you or his smartphone?“, Markian Hawryluk, Feb. 2, 2015