Can Patients Ban Facebook from the OR?

A couple of years back my wife went in for surgery. Her only request to the surgeon was that healing statements be read. The surgeon generally agreed.

Now should either of us need to go in for a serious procedure, I’m going insist on something else: a written pledge against the use of technology for anything but patient care.  Why?

An article in The New York Times details numerous examples of “distracted doctoring” — medical professionals making personal phone calls, checking Facebook, texting, and more during medical procedures:

“You walk around the hospital, and what you see is not funny,” said Dr. Peter J. Papadakos, an anesthesiologist and director of critical care at the University of Rochester Medical Center in upstate New York, who added that he had seen nurses, doctors and other staff members glued to their phones, computers and iPads.

Not when the scalpel is poised over my body, thank you very much.

Technology is as much on the rise in health care as it is in the rest of our lives. We are constantly tempted by the opportunity to get a fix from one of our many devices. In Renegotiating Health Care we devoted space to the conflicts that might arise as patient and doctor wield competing smartphones each with access to vast amounts of data and opinions on symptoms, treatment options, and much more. We dubbed this the emergence of “the negotiating patient.”

We also discovered in one interview for the book that some tech tools were narrowing the attention of nurses: where once they would scan the entire written patient chart while completing their specific duties, they now were laser-focused on those specific items that were color-coded as a nursing responsibility in the electronic medical record. We failed to anticipate that an OR computer would be used to check airfares during a procedure.

The Times reports that the Oregon Health and Science University hospitals have declared their ORs are “quiet zones” from which all non-patient-centered activity is banned. That seems a sensible step that should be become a standard at all hospitals. Patients should demand it (and certainly their attorneys will now think to subpoena digital records in malpractice cases); this is just one more facet of the negotiations that are increasingly common in health care.

Until this becomes (pardon the pun) standard operating procedure, this negotiating patient is going to insist on a written agreement with the surgical team: no Facebook updates, no mid-incision Tweets, no last-minute bids on eBay. If you really want to “like” me, give me all of your attention during the procedure.

What do you think?


  1. sherry reynolds @cascadia says:

    There is also a growing trend to use social media to stream surgery online.

    I wonder if it is a fair negotiation between the patient and the provider given the frequent power difference between the two participants. What are the rules if something goes wrong? Will this mean that all patients can record their surgery’s in the future?

Speak Your Mind