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Distracted surgery can result in medical errors

Most of us have heard of distracted driving. But what about distracted surgery? One of the most common forms of distraction for Maryland physicians is their cellphones. Doctors who make phone calls, send texts or look at the internet during surgery may be more likely to make mistakes during a surgery, resulting in medical malpractice. However, there are also some benefits to having access to a phone while treating patients.

Some argue that doctors should have access to their phones during surgery in case they need to access a medical app, conduct quick research or call for help. Their phone could mean the difference between life and death for a patient. They may also use their phones to check-in with patients and access patient information.

However, there is a downside to allowing cellphones in that many doctors will use their phones for personal reasons at inopportune times. There is no realistic way for the hospital to monitor doctor phones to make sure they are only using them for work. There is also a higher risk for infection, as cellphones may be contaminated with bacteria. One study showed that four out of a group of five doctors going into surgery had bacterial contamination on their phones. Even when the phones were disinfected, there was still bacteria on them and most of them were re-contaminated after a week.

Another concern is patient confidentiality. A report by Skycure in 2016 indicated that 14 percent of doctors have unsecured patient information on their phones and that 60 percent of doctors send confidential patient information over text. These types of errors cause security breaches and put patients at risk.

It has been estimated that there are 250,000 medical errors every year. However, a researcher and professor of surgery at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine found that the actual number of medical errors may be two to three times higher than this, meaning that thousands more patients may be at risk. The FDA also lists medication errors as a serious concern, as they injure over one million people every year.

Source: Fox News, "Are distracted doctors risking patients' safety?" Dr. Manny Alvarez, July 17, 2017

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