The total share of Americans who own a smartphone is now 77%, up almost 42% since the year 2011.1Smartphones have infiltrated our lives not only at home, but also at work. Smartphones in all work settings can present both opportunities and challenges. However, in the healthcare setting smartphones can become particularly dangerous due to their ability to become a significant distraction, decrease effective communication, and present privacy and security risks.2If healthcare professionals do not use smartphones appropriately these devices could pose a great risk for generating serious negative consequences.
Distraction Caused by Smartphones
Numerous studies have demonstrated the negative impacts of smartphones on cognitive performance and decision-making ability. Their use increases reaction time, reduces focus, and lowers performance on tasks requiring mental concentration and decision-making skills.2 When an individual is preoccupied by their smartphone their attention is forced to be reallocated to some degree, which ultimately detracts focus from all of the other tasks he or she may be performing. In one hospital researchers found that each interruption to workflow resulted in a 12.1% increase in procedural failing, and a 12.7% increase in clinical errors. Depending on the amount of time a nurse or physician spends on their phone each day, it is apparent that smartphone use could be contributing to a number of preventable errors.
Impact on Communication
Smartphones have the ability to increase the ease of and amount of correspondence that can occur between workers on a healthcare team. Yet, nurses in one study perceived an overall worsening of interprofessional relationships due to an overreliance of text message communication compared to verbal communication in person.3 Smartphones can also interfere with communication during rounds meetings and patient interactions. Reports have shown that electronic devices used for information gathering/storing decrease aspects of essential communication such as eye contact, gestures, visibility of actions, and verbal and non-verbal contact.4
Potential Benefits of Smartphone Use
Despite the capability of smartphones to serve as distractions in the healthcare setting, these devices may also be beneficial to healthcare professions when used for appropriate reasons. Close to 50% of health-related applications on smartphones are targeted towards a variety of medical professionals.5 Access to educational resources through these apps and the internet has allowed healthcare professionals to make more rapid decisions with a lower error rate, increase data management and accessibility, and improve efficiency in a number of research studies.6
Oversight by Employers
The prevalence of smartphones is apparent across nearly all work settings. In order to promote favorable smartphone habits and prevent distraction errors, some companies have established guidelines for smartphone use at work. Survey results indicate that 76% of employers have made efforts to control productivity through blocking certain Internet sites (32%) and banning personal calls (26%).7 However, actually enforcing policies and taking disciplinary action can pose significant difficulties to employers.
Ultimately, healthcare professionals should each take individual responsibility in regard to using their phones appropriately in the workplace. Smartphones can enhance a nurse or physicians knowledge base when utilized in the right situations for the right reasons. Conversely, inappropriate smartphone use can reduce productivity, increase preventable errors, reduce effective communication, and breach patient privacy.
- Mobile Fact Sheet. Pewinternet.org. http://www.pewinternet.org/fact-sheet/mobile. Published Feburary 5, 2018. Accessed November 6, 2018.
- Gill PS, Kamath A, Gill TS. Distraction: an assessment of smartphone usage in health care work settings. Risk Manag Healthc Policy. 2012;5:105-114. doi:10.2147/RMHP.S34813
- Wu R, Rossos P, Quan S, et al. An evaluation of the use of smartphones to communicate between clinicians: a mixed-methods study. J Med Internet Res. 2011;13(3):e59. doi:10.2196/jmir.1655
- Alsos OA, Das A, Svanæs D. Mobile health IT: the effect of user interface and form factor on doctor-patient communication. Int J Med Inform. 2012;81(1):12-28. doi:10.1016/j.ijmedinf.2011.09.004
- Dolan B. Report: 13K iPhone consumer health apps in 2012. Mobihealthnews.com. http://mobihealthnews.com/13368/report-13k-iphone-consumer-health-apps-in-2012.Accessed November 6, 2012.
- Mobile devices and apps for health care professionals: uses and benefits. PT. 2014;39(5):356-64.
- New CareerBuilder Survey Reveals How Much Smartphones Are Sapping Productivity at Work. Prnewswire.com. https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/new-careerbuilder-survey-reveals-how-much-smartphones-are-sapping-productivity-at-work-300281718.html. Published June 9, 2016. Accessed November 6, 2018.