The distracted hospital: Implications for patient and staff safety

The enhanced flow of information over the past decade has added new levels of distraction for people of all ages. This situation extends into the work lives of healthcare staff. Without proactive attention and accommodation, these distractions can work against safety culture and outcomes.

Michelle Feil, MSN, RN, senior patient safety analyst with the Pennsylvania Patient Safety Authority, identified distractions such as phones, computers, and other technological devices as contributing to memory lapses in clinical staff that led to them forgetting to follow procedures or medical direction resulting in medical errors. News reports of text messaging in the surgery suite leading to patient harm or medication errors made while reviewing email are sadly becoming more and more common.

It is crucial for hospital leaders to deliberately and thoughtfully nurture a culture of safety. This requires staff to be fully present to reduce the possibility of web, text, or call interruptions that can lead to patient or staff safety incidents. A good step toward stopping this dangerous trend is for hospital safety leaders to review current policies and procedures to see what additions are needed to address distractions in the workplace. Next, technology distraction forums should be implemented to help staff see the dangers and understand how they can personally mitigate them. Lastly, leaders must be diligent role models to support a safety culture that doesn't allow the lure of a text or email to pull attention from a patient's needs or a colleague's conversation.

Also, it's time for effective anti-distraction campaigns such as "Drive Now and Text Later" to extend into the healthcare field so hospital caregivers are reminded of the potential dangers of prioritizing a text message over patient safety.

Diane Stover-Hopkins is a principal consultant for DuPont Sustainable Solutions, focused on the healthcare industry. She can be reached at

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