The Industry Needs a “Mobile Code of Etiquette”

I was out to dinner last evening with my two teenage daughters –and both of them needed to be told, repeatedly, to put their mobile phones away. Unfortunately, I quickly lost my temper and said, “turn them off.” Frankly, it’s just plain rude and it’s an embarrassment that they don’t seem to know any better. Feel free to ask me how I really feel about it.

Although I hid my displeasure on the occasion of this next example, I was similarly disgusted when the attending nurse at our local hospital was checking her cell phone for messages in one hand while resetting the monitors attached to my mother’s body (my mom needed a few tests last week). The nurse could tell I was upset about something, but she really had no idea what my problem was and, under those circumstances, I wasn’t going to tell her.

And what was I supposed to think when I watched my surgeon friend review an image on his iPad while riding in our golf cart? He quickly annotated a chart and then asked me for a distance and wind direction for his next shot. No offense to my friend, who is an excellent surgeon by the way, but that incident sparked an “after round” conversation that prompted this post.

Are the benefits we’re seeing through the exploding use of mobile devices in healthcare just too wonderful to question –or are there some genuine “gotchas” that the industry needs to address sooner rather than later?  In this same context, what’s more dangerous, a multitasking physician or a multitasking housewife (e.g. texting and driving)?

“Distracted doctoring” is what the New York Times is calling the phenomenon of medical professionals using tablets or smartphones during the middle of surgery and other procedures. “My gut feeling is lives are in danger,” said Dr. Papadakos, who recently published an article on “electronic distraction” in Anesthesiology News, a journal. “We’re not educating people about the problem, and it’s getting worse.” According to sources referenced in numerous articles on the subject (everyone seems to be referencing an article by ZDNet’s Eric Lai), 55% of technicians who monitor heart bypass machines during surgery had talked on their cellphones during the surgery. And a similar percentage of technicians admitted to texting during surgeries. That same article provided one damning anecdote after another –all of them about surgeons, nurses and interns making serious care mistakes due to being distracted by an incoming call, a text, etc.

Physicians love their devices. 81% of physicians have smartphones. And they also love their apps. 38% of them use medical apps daily. One-third use smartphones or tablets to access electronic medical records today, with another 20% expecting to start using them this year.

The Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) trend is appropriately named after the idea of Bring Your Own Bottle (BYOB) –because we all know how well that works. New research from Forrester suggests that more than 50% of the workers around the globe are using at least three different devices for work purposes; that 40% of them are rarely authenticated and that close to 60% of just one group (the Apple iOs devices) were running out-of-date firmware. As bad as all of that sounds, I have no doubt that those problems will get fixed.

Simply stated, there is no industry that has fallen for the promise and adopted mobility more rapidly than healthcare. And remarkably, everyone sees pretty much the same future  –one loaded with the same kinds of smart devices, new apps and bullet proof integration to existing HIT systems. Most everyone shares a similar enthusiasm –and vision– and that’s kind of cool. While the FDA mulls over quality standards for such apps and providers convince themselves that they have become “expert” in all the related matters concerning security, HIPPA compliance, etc., the industry needs to take a collective step back and develop a “mobile code of etiquette.”

IT and Supply Chain Professionals (SCM) who are investigating Mobile Device Management (MDM) applications need to do more than make themselves familiar with ways to manage devices and network traffic. Keeping rogue devices off the network and making sure everyone knows that big brother is watching isn’t nearly as difficult as developing and enforcing a policy about how and when these devices can and should be used.

That will require someone with an ability to articulate common sense –and that is a far more daunting challenge.

—Tom Finn


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