Halamka: Mobile device distractions 'a matter of life and death'

We've tackled the "distracted docs" question before--whether mobile technologies interfere with physicians' workflow as much as they improve it. But a few new nuances came to light this week in an article published in Kaiser Health News that bear repeating:

1. Give docs more education: The BYOD environment is exploding, and more physicians are carrying multiple personal apps and software on the same smartphone they use for work, John Halamka, CIO at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, tells KHN. It's a major challenge for CIOs trying to manage the professional side of the device, but finding clinicians distracted by what's on the personal side.

Also, in a BYOD environment, personal and professional emails, texts and other notifications can get tangled up, and possibly cause an important message to be missed.

"I think all of us who use mobile devices have what I will call continuous partial attention," Halamka tells KHN. "We're engaged in our work but at the same time we're checking that email or we're glancing at that instant message." The distractions might be minor in another setting, but can be "a matter of life and death" when physicians are engaged in patient care, KHN points out.

2. Update policies frequently: Hospitals need to catch up--and keep up--with their physicians' mobile habits what kinds of apps and software they're using, how they're using them and where.

"The consumer technology industry is bringing more tech to doctor hands faster than policy can be made," Halamka says. "How long did it take to pass laws against texting while driving? And we had how many people die because they were distracted drivers. There was a lag. I think maybe we're at that point in healthcare."

3. Keep things in perspective: At the end of the day, mobile interruptions are not all that different from non-mobile ones, such as an overhead page, or a nurse catching a physician's attention while he's completing paperwork. But they have one key differences that hospitals should discuss with medical staff--constancy. New studies show that smartphone users often are hyper-vigilant about checking messages, and watching for incoming notifications, which in healthcare could mean a physician who isn't fully engaged with his or her patient.

To learn more:
- read the Kaiser Health News article.
- check out Techworld's piece on 'phantom' texts