Doctors distracted by electronic devices may endanger many patients

Many patients may suffer unnecessary medical complications when cell phones and other electronic devices distract doctors during operating room procedures.

The habit of driving while using cell phones or other distracting electronic devices has become a widely recognized public safety epidemic. Unfortunately, the roadways aren't the only place that innocent people may suffer harm because other people are focusing on electronic devices rather than the task at hand. According to recent reports, it may be alarmingly common for operating room doctors and other medical professionals to endanger patients in Chicago by rendering care while distracted.

Deadly levels of distraction

According to The Washington Post, the personal use of cell phones and other devices in the operating room is more typical than many people would like to believe. One non-profit has studied the issue and identified cell phone distraction as one of the top 10 technology-related risks that medical patients face. Anecdotal evidence suggests that many medical professionals may regularly place calls, send texts and emails, browse social media or shop online during medical procedures.

Sadly, all of these activities may increase the risk that medical professionals will make preventable surgical errors or expose patients to other risks. According to critics, the use of cell phones, tablets and other devices may have the following dangerous effects during medical procedures:

  • Making it more difficult for doctors to prevent the spread of infections
  • Producing disruptive and distracting noises
  • Demanding the visual and mental attention of doctors

Various high-profile cases have illustrated the deadly effects that doctor distraction can have. In 2011, a Texas woman died after her oxygen levels fell during surgery. The anesthesiologist, who failed to notice the issue for 20 minutes, was accused of emailing and texting during the procedure. In 2014, comedian Joan Rivers passed away due to complications during a throat surgery. During the operation, one doctor took cell phone photos of the comedian. Investigators didn't find that this behavior directly caused the complications, but it may have contributed to the final outcome.

Challenges of creating stricter regulations

Unfortunately, many hospitals lack clear policies that prohibit doctors from using electronic devices in the operating room. Various groups, including the American College of Surgeons, have called on healthcare providers to establish more stringent rules. However, this task may prove challenging because these electronic devices do sometimes have legitimate medical uses.

Pacific Standard magazine notes that doctors can utilize electronic devices to pull up information on patients, medical conditions or procedures. In some cases, this may be the most efficient way to secure information that can be used for the immediate benefit of the patient. It may be difficult for healthcare providers to pass rules that allow this legitimate form of electronic device use while banning more frivolous and dangerous distractions. Unfortunately, the absence of such rules may leave patients at significant risk for complications or injuries due to medical malpractice.

Holding distracted doctors accountable

When doctors in Illinois fail to uphold a reasonable standard of care for any reason, including distraction, victims may have legal recourse. However, proving that distraction contributed to professional oversights, surgical mistakes or other forms of malpractice may be challenging. To make a more effective case, injury victims or their families should consider consulting with a malpractice attorney to better understand the relevant legal standards and claim process.