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Could your doctor be updating his Facebook status during surgery?

Last week, our Fayetteville, North Carolina, personal injury law blog discussed some of the dangers of distracted driving and the National Transportation Safety Board's strong recommendation that all states ban drivers from using hands-free and hand-held devices in order to prevent causing serious or fatal accidents. But do similar recommendations need to be made in our nation's hospitals and operating rooms?

Technology has contributed to making vast improvements in the medical field regarding patient care and treatment. And doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals can easily access patient data, medical texts and other information from their iPads, laptops and smartphones. But when medical professionals begin to use these devices for purposes other than to provide patients with quality care, they could end up making serious or fatal medical errors.

In response to the growing concern that more medical professionals are becoming too distracted by their portable electronic devices, one doctor stated, "My gut feeling is lives are in danger." He believes that medical schools and hospitals are not doing enough to educate staff and students about the real dangers of relying too heavily on their iPads and computers when working with patients.

But some doctors and students say that they are encouraged to use their devices as often as possible in order to stay on top of the latest information and data. And hospitals are spending billions in order to make sure that doctors have access to these helpful devices.

Little research has been done regarding the concerns of distracted doctoring and how the quality of patient care may be affected by the problem. However, doctors and surveys have indicated that using cell phones and other devices in critical situations happens more frequently than some might think.

In a recent medical malpractice case, a patient became partially paralyzed after he underwent surgery. It was later discovered that the surgeon had been making personal phone calls while he was operating on the patient. Other doctors have reported seeing co-workers texting during operations or shopping online while working in the intensive care unit.

Some hospitals have acknowledged the problems smartphones, iPads and other devices can potentially cause when medical professionals use the devices for purposes other than to take care of patients. As a result, some hospitals have started to limit the use of the devices in order to prevent staff from becoming distracted during critical situations that could result in a patient suffering serious or fatal injuries.

Source: Charlotte Observer, "Distracted doctors," Matt Richtel, Dec. 19, 2011

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