Smartphones Distract Hospital Staff on Rounds


Smartphone use by hospitalists and other hospital staff is becoming ubiquitous, with a recent survey showing 72% of physicians using these devices at work.1 At the same time, concerns are being raised about clinical distractions and threats to patient privacy, even while such benefits as rapid access to colleagues, medical references, and patient records are touted.

In a study published in the Journal of Hospital Medicine, Rachel Katz-Sidlow, MD, of the department of pediatrics at Jacobi Medical Center in Bronx, N.Y., and colleagues surveyed residents’ and attendings’ perceptions of the use of smartphones during inpatient rounds, both their own and observed behaviors of colleagues.2 Fifty-seven percent of residents and 28% of faculty reported using smartphones during inpatient rounds, while significantly higher percentages observed other team members doing so.

The most common smartphone uses were for patient care, but doctors also use them to read and reply to personal texts and emails, as well as for non-patient-care-related Web searches. The authors observe that smartphones “introduce another source of interruption, multitasking, and distraction into the hospital environment,” with potential negative consequences.

Nineteen percent of residents believed they had missed important clinical information because of smartphone distraction during rounds. After seeing the survey results, Jacobi Medical Center instituted a smartphone policy in February 2012, essentially requiring personal mobile communication devices to be silenced at the start of rounds, except for patient care communication or urgent family matters, Dr. Katz-Sidlow wrote in an email to the The Hospitalist.

Confirmation of the spread of communication technology in the hospital toward smartphones and away from traditional pagers comes from data presented at the American Academy of Pediatrics conference in New Orleans in October by Stephanie Kuhlmann, MD, pediatric hospitalist at the University of Kansas at Wichita.3 Dr. Kuhlmann conducted an electronic survey of pediatric hospitalists, with 60% reporting that they receive work-related text messages. Twelve percent sent more than 10 text messages per shift, while 40% expressed concern about HIPAA violations. Most text messages are not encrypted, and many hospitals have yet to implement appropriately secure programs and policies, Dr. Kuhlmann says.

“Hospitals need to be aware of this trend and need to find a way to secure these text messages,” she adds.

Another recent survey by the Orem, Utah-based firm KLAS Research found that while 70% of clinicians report using smartphones or tablets to look up electronic patient records, they are less likely to input information into the EHR on these devices because of the difficulty of entering data on their small screens.4


  1. Dolan B. 72 percent of US physicians use smartphones. Mobi Health News website. Available at: http://mobihealthnews.com/7505/72-percent-of-us-physicians-use-smartphones/. Accessed Dec. 8, 2012.
  2. Katz-Sidlow RJ, Ludwig A, Millers S, Sidlow R. Smartphone use during inpatient attending rounds: prevalence, patterns and potential for distraction. J Hosp Med. 2012;7(8):595-599.
  3. Miller NS. Text messages are a growing trend among pediatric hospitalists. Pediatric News Digital Network website. Available at: http://www.pediatricnews.com/news/top-news/single-article/text-messages-are-a-growing-trend-among-pediatric-hospitalists/3dabf7208c75c44d36f368a83221d320.html. Accessed Nov. 1, 2012.
  4. Westerlind E. Mobile healthcare applications: can enterprise vendors keep up? KLAS website. Available at: http://www.klasresearch.com/KLASreports. Accessed Dec. 8, 2012.

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