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Digital devices, distracted doctors and doubtful diagnosis

Distracted-driving accidents have taken a terrible toll in lost lives and serious injuries on the nation's highways in recent years. That is why so many states have passed restrictions on texting while driving and on cellphone use behind the wheel.

Effective enforcement of those restrictions remains a work in progress. But at least there is considerable consensus nationally on the dangers of digital distractions to others.

Unfortunately, it isn't only distracted driving that puts people at risk. As we will discuss in this post, there is also such a thing as distracted doctoring

A family in Texas is suing a hospital and two doctors after one of the doctors, an anesthesiologist, read and may have texted on his personal iPad during heart surgery.

The surgery involved an AV node ablation, a procedure that is not supposed to be life-threatening. But the patient died within hours after the procedure was performed.

The patient's family contends that the anesthesiologist failed to detect a serious dip in blood-oxygen levels in a timely manner. Obviously it raises questions about how closely a doctor was monitoring a patient if that doctor was distracted by a digital device.

Our point in this post is not to demonize particular doctors or dwell on the daunting details that came out during depositions in the Texas case. What we seek to suggest, rather, is that technology is a double-edged sword when it comes to patient care.

For example, electronic medical records may well be an improvement over old-style paper charts. They do not depend on doctor's scratchy notations, and they can be linked to other databases to facilitate prescriptions and help prevent prescription errors.

But by turning doctors into data-entry workers, electronic records may be getting in the way of genuine interaction between a doctor and a patient. And this lack of this type of interaction could undermine doctors' ability to make an accurate diagnosis based on the patient's comprehensive condition.

Source: The Dallas Observer, "Dallas Anesthesiologist Being Sued Over Deadly Surgery Admists to Texting, Reading iPad During Procedures," Eric Nicholson, April 1, 2014

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