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15-07-2012 | Hospitalist | Article

Smartphone policies would ease distraction during rounds


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MedWire News: US attendings would like formal policies governing smartphone use during rounds, show the results of a survey that highlight the potential for smartphones to cause distraction, as well as being useful in this setting.

"Smartphones provide numerous benefits to physicians, including rapid access to medical references, research applications, and patient information," say Rachel Katz-Sidlow (Jacobi Medical Center, Bronx, New York, USA) and colleagues in the Journal of Hospital Medicine.

However, little is known about their potential for distraction, and the current study findings indicate their widespread use during attending rounds are a cause for possible concern, especially for faculty who lead the rounds.

A total of 156 medical and pediatric staff, including 116 house staff and 40 faculty members, responded to a survey designed and validated by Katz-Sidlow and co-workers to evaluate smartphone usage patterns during hospital inpatient attending rounds that focus on clinical care and patient management.

Questions asked for reasons why and how frequently physicians might use smartphones during rounds, and whether physicians believed they or another team member had ever missed an important piece of clinical information because they were distracted by smartphone use.

Almost all faculty (98%) and the vast majority of residents (89%) in the group owned a smartphone, with 57% of house staff and 28% of attendings reporting regular personal use (calls, texts) of their device during rounds.

Overall, smartphone use could be broken into use for patient care (85% residents; 48% faculty), reading or responding to personal communication (37% residents; 12% faculty), and other nonpatient care use including "Web-surfing" (15% residents; 0% faculty).

In all, 19% of residents and 12% of attendings admitted missing important clinical information because they were distracted by smartphone use, report Katz-Sidlow et al.

While over half of residents (56%) and faculty (73%) reported that smartphones "can be a serious distraction," 77% of attendings believed that teaching hospitals should develop smartphone "codes of conduct," to minimize unnecessary distraction.

Comments from faculty members highlighted worries that "sometimes more focus is on the smartphone than rounds," and that some of the house staff will be "tuned into their smartphones" during rounds.

The study authors note the development of such guidelines at their institution, involving all members of the inpatient team. "Incorporating the various perspectives of all stakeholders can be helpful to maximize the benefits of smartphone use in the learning environment, while reducing the potential for distraction and adverse outcomes," they conclude.

By Sarah Guy

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