did distracted doctoring play a role in a patients death

Thanks to the efforts of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and vehicle safety advocacy groups, most of us know all about the dangers posed by distracted driving. Specifically, we are now more aware than ever of just how dangerous it is to talk and text while behind the wheel.

Unfortunately, we also know that despite being fully aware of these dangers of talking and texting while driving, an alarming number of motorists still engage in the practice, putting otherwise innocent motorists and pedestrians at risk.

In fact, while you would naturally think that the dangers posed by people being unable to put down their smart phones is confined to the roads and freeways, guess again.

As it turns out, this seeming addiction to talking, texting, web surfing and social media connectivity is now causing problems in a forum most people would probably rank among the most safety-focused in the world: operating rooms.

If you don’t believe it, consider a case out of Texas, where attorneys representing the family of a 61-year-old woman who died 10 hours after undergoing a heart procedure believe that so-called distracted doctoring may have played a role.

During the discovery phase of the trial, which is scheduled for September, the attorneys took the depositions of the two physicians named in the lawsuit: the cardiologist who performed the procedure and the anesthesiologist in charge of monitoring the patient.

During his deposition, the cardiologist shared his belief that the anesthesiologist was distracted during the surgery, saying “he was doing something either [with] his cell phone or pad or something.” This distraction, claimed the cardiologist, likely caused the anesthesiologist to fail to notice the patient’s blood-oxygen levels for at least 15 to 20 minutes after she had already turned blue, and later to fabricate saturation numbers in the case record.

During his deposition, however, the anesthesiologist denied ever being distracted by his smartphone during this procedure or others, saying he sometimes used his phone to look for information on medications, procedures or other medical issues. However, as the deposition progressed, he seemed to backtrack, particularly when confronted with a picture posted to his Facebook account showing the vital signs of another patient on an OR monitor.

While much has yet to be proven in this tragic case, the idea that distracted doctoring may have played a role is certainly unnerving. It will indeed be interesting to see whether this case, regardless of its outcome, prompts hospitals and other outpatient facilities across the nation to institute strict “no smart phones in the OR” policies.

Source: Outpatient Surgery, “Another reason why you should ban smart phones from the OR,” Jim Burger, April 3, 2014

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