Being Smarter with Smartphones

If your eyes are downcast at your smartphone, there is a pretty good chance someone is finding you rude. Whether you’re texting at the table during dinner, checking the score of the game at a social gathering, or not so discreetly checking your messages in a meeting, the perception is that you’re giving your attention to your device rather than the people around you. Eighty-two percent of adults believe phone use in social situations “frequently” or “occasionally” hurts the conversation, according to Pew Research Center’s 2015 mobile etiquette survey.

It’s not any different in healthcare: At best, patients often perceive physicians and nurses using technology as not giving them the attention they deserve; at worst, they think clinicians are being downright rude, even though these smartphones and computers are actually facilitating their care. Mobile apps are routinely used for clinical decision making at the point of care. They can assist clinicians in referencing drug information and interactions, looking up treatment information in medical journals, calculating the right medication dosage, logging vital details in the EHR, or securely texting a colleague for a consult.

2016 study of medical students revealed that while 87 percent say the use of these apps improved patient care, 54 percent reported that their use makes them appear less engaged to the patient. Despite the fact that these point-of-care apps have been shown to support patient care, save time, and increase diagnostic accuracy, smartphone usage in public spaces and social situations has conditioned us to assume the person across from us on their phone is texting or using social media.

Not even physicians are immune: Dr. Perri Klass recently opined in The New York Times that she felt irritated when a rounding doctor kept looking down at her phone, even though she “probably was using the phone to act on every one of the decisions being discussed, changing drug doses, ordering labs, requesting consultations, or at least, making notes to herself to do those things.” Dr. Klass admitted that if the rounding doctor had been scribbling on a clipboard instead, she wouldn’t have minded.

We hear concerns about patient perception of smartphone use from our healthcare customers using our secure texting solution, Spok Mobile®.  We’ve found that these three tips can go a long way toward making patients feel more comfortable when clinicians are using smartphones to support care:

1. Raise awareness at the door

Consider adding signage throughout your facilities that patients will see soon after they check in that explains the use of smartphones at your health system. A targeted message can let patients know right from the start the purpose of smartphones inside hospital walls. You can consider language such as:  “Our team uses smartphones to plan and coordinate patient care. The result is less noise and more efficiency. Thanks for your understanding.” You could even try a little humor: “Facebook and Candy Crush? Not here. Our care teams use their smartphones to access medical apps to support patient care. If we’re looking at our phones, it’s all about you.”

2. Tell patients what’s going on

Keeping patients informed will banish any suspicions and make them comfortable. Rather than just jumping to your smartphone when you need to look something up or send a secure text, first tell your patient what you’re doing:

–  “I’m just going to confirm this drug doesn’t have any negative interactions with your current medication.”

–  “Your test results have come in. Let me pull them up.”

–  “I want my colleague to take a look at your rash. I’m checking to see if she’s available now.”

These little verbal cues don’t take much time, but they effectively put the patient at ease that they’re still the focus of your attention and your device is just helping you do what’s best for them.

3. Put the smartphones away when you can

As Dr. Nat’e Guyton, our Chief Nursing Officer, pointed out in her blog post last year, clinician screen time will never be eliminated, but it’s best for the provider/patient relationship to minimize it as much as possible. Try to isolate your smartphone use to one point of the visit, and be cognizant of maintaining eye contact and open body language with the patient. The goal is to incorporate smartphones and the useful point-of-care apps on them without hurting the relationship with the patient.

By keeping these three tips in mind, you can confidently use smartphones to strengthen care and enhance the patient experience. How do you integrate smartphones into the culture of care at your hospital or health system? Are there any tips we’re missing? I’d love to hear from you!