Linda M. Richmond May 14, 2021
Doctors have been quick to embrace the smartphone as an invaluable tool in the practice of medicine. These devices put information at your fingertips, allow you to check medical references, confer with colleagues instantly, and even access patient data and test results.
A report by the Boston Consulting Group and Telenor Group noted that the “smartphone is the most popular technology among doctors since the stethoscope.” Indeed, the share of Americans who own a smartphone—85%—represents a dramatic increase from just 35% a decade ago, reports the Pew Research Center. What’s more, smartphone uptake by individuals earning more than $75,000 a year is near universal at 96%.
But the advancement and proliferation of smartphone technology also brings with it responsibilities and risks that physicians should consider. What follows are some of the most pressing concerns, according to recent guidelines, litigation, and an expert in the field of physician smartphone use.
Avoid ‘distracted’ doctoring
Human attention has a limited capacity. According to the American Psychological Association, talking on a cell phone causes a kind of “inattentional blindness,” whereby individuals can stare at objects but not see them due to an inability to process the visual information. In fact, cell phones are implicated in 1.6 million automobile crashes a year, according to the National Safety Council. More than one study has shown smartphone use to be as impairing as alcohol intoxication. (Think you might have a problem with smartphones? See Most doctors probably have this addiction on MDLinx.)
Similarly, when doctors use their personal smartphones in professional settings, they may experience risky distractions from clinical care. For example they may be interrupted by non-acute clinical concerns, personal communications, or even app notifications, according to a guideline on the use of personal devices in healthcare published by the Journal of Mobile Technology in Medicine.