In a recent note, a guest blogger, Nial Toner, raised the issue of what I will call distracted diagnostics for the purpose of this discussion (see: Cloud Computing in Digital Pathology: Addressing Some Pressing Needs). Here is a paragraph from his note making reference to the fact that some pathologists working on digital cases away from their normal office might feel stressed or unfocused:
Some pathologists may be skeptical about working from many different locations and believe that system settings may affect how they deal with their daily case workload. The key argument here is that the pathologist working in his or her office environment is more likely to stay focused and therefore make more accurate diagnoses.
This is a very interesting point. We all understand the hazards of distracted driving and have seen cars weaving about with the driver holding a cell phone to his or her ear. Many states have outlawed the practice as unsafe. By the way, I purposely chose the term distracted diagnostics because the issue is even more relevant for the radiologist than the pathologist, digital images being more widely available in radiology.
I am thinking about a pathologist or radiologist interpreting images in a home office, perhaps alternating between household tasks and professional work. Increasingly common may even be the scenario of the review of a surgical pathology case or a radiology study with a cell phone, ducking out of a restaurant or party. Distraction has always been one of the known challenges of telecommuting.
On the other hand, it may be relevant here to ask whether the notion of distracted diagnostics is a red herring? Clinicians take cell phone calls all of the time wherever they are located. They frequently provide critical clinical advice with their hand over one ear to block out ambient noise in a restaurant. No one considers this a problem. In fact, we consider it appropriate and necessary.
I found a reference to distracted doctoring on the web site of a malpractice lawyer. Here, cell phones and browsing social media sites were highlighted as common distractions for physicians and other health professionals in hospital settings (see: Find out how a Tennessee medical malpractice lawyer can help). Here is a quote from the web page:
Doctors are without question busy during their day. Certain distractions are unavoidable due to the nature of their work. Other distractions are unnecessary in an operating room or examining room:
- Answering a cell phone
- TextingSurfing the internet
- Checking social medial sites
Distracted doctoring is more common than people might think. In fact, the ECRI Institute, an organization that researches ways to improve safety and quality of patient care, listed “caregiver distractions from smartphones and other mobile devices” as No. 9 on a top 10 list of health technology hazards for 2013. Stories have surfaced of doctors wearing headsets and making a personal phone call during a procedure.
I don't know whether distracted diagnostics is really a problem. It might be worth a study, perhaps starting with digital radiology.