Theres no question about it: mobile devices like laptops, tablets, and smartphones are convenient, enabling us to get things done anywhere, anytime. But that convenience comes at a cost—especially for eye care practices. HIPAA concerns like patient privacy and data security may be the biggest mobile device problems that your practice must address, but they’re not the only ones. Check out these unexpected side effects of mobile devices:
Your cellphone has more germs than a toilet seat. We’ve all heard variations of this statement, but accurate or not, smartphones and tablets are basically Petri dishes. They’re close to your mouth and/or hands, and the device is warm—a perfect environment for breeding bacteria, explains Debra Stinchcomb, MBA, BSN, RN, CASC, who spoke about smartphone use at the 2017 annual meeting of the Ambulatory Surgical Center Association. And it’s not just your staff’s phones—patient phones are no better. A 2011 study revealed that patient phones carried more pathogens—including drug-resistant ones—than healthcare workers, according to Stinchcomb. Those pathogens included MRSA, Staphylococcus aureus, E. coli, Klebsiella, and more.
Some facilities urge staff not to bring personal devices into clinical areas at all. That may not be realistic for you, so at the minimum, advise staff members to wipe down their phones with a disinfectant wipe at least once a day, and before entering and after leaving a clinical setting. You could also consider setting up a “phone wash” station in your lobby, including a poster on mobile phone cleansing and complementary wipes.
We all know the dangers of distracted driving, but what about distracted doctoring? Actually, this doesn’t encompass only doctors, but also nurses, techs, and other staff members. Cell phone use impairs focus, decreases reaction time, and lowers the quality of decision making—all of which are of utmost importance in am eye care practice or surgical center, Stinchcomb told her audience. It could be a clinician forgetting to start or stop meds. It could be your front desk person who schedules a patient at the wrong time. Whatever the case, devices are a distraction.
Again, consider creating no-use areas including patient care areas, recommends Stinchcomb. You can always create “hotspots” where work-essential devices can be used. Ask physicians to create a “high alert” list of contacts, she suggests. Many devices have this feature. The physician is alerted to communications from these priority contacts, while all other notifications are in “do not disturb” mode.
The Patient Experience
You know that physician who always has his or her phone buzzing in their pocket? What about the tech whose phone played an offensive ringtone while pre-testing a patient? Situations like these can irritate patients, who will either think you are unprofessional, or think that they’re not important enough to get your full attention. Both spell bad news for patient satisfaction levels.
We all want to give our employees the benefit of the doubt, but most practices find that in order to maintain productivity and the appearance of professionalism throughout the day, you must limit staff members’ access to personal devices. When not required for work purposes, ask staff to leave devices in their lockers or other designated area. Encourage staff to check their phones during breaks or other pre-determined times. And what about the teacher calling to report a sick child, or other emergency? Ask staff to list their emergency contact as your practice’s landline. Lastly, regulate the ringtones, alert, and notification sounds that staff may use while at work.
Nowadays, mobile devices could almost be considered a body part (we’re not endorsing this, but it’s the reality for many folks). So it’s not only your staff members’ devices that you need to worry about—patients’ devices can also be problematic. Eric Christensen, Director of Client Services at Healthcare Compliance Pros, recalls one instance where a father took a video of his daughter’s cast being removed. The issue? There were patients walking around in the background, and he inadvertently captured images of those patients. “Facebook, with their facial recognition, can tag people in pictures that they don’t even know that they’re in,” notes Christensen.
But images and videos do have their place in the medical practice. For example, some patients find it convenient to record (their own) post-op instructions, wound care procedures, or medication dosing instructions. “It’s not always a bad situation,” says Christensen. “It’s just that the practice needs to control it via patient education, written procedures, and posted and signed policies.” And you do need to control it. “If patients see that you have a laissez-faire implementation of policies or enforcement, what’s going to be your legal standing if something does blow up on you?” he asks. “The chances of PHI exposure and a huge HIPAA violation are slim—until there’s a major incident.”
Christensen recommends have a posted “No Devices” policy. “Most hospitals and surgery centers already have those policies in place,” he shares. Consider adding a mobile device policy to your patient onboarding paperwork, and share the update with your current patients. “Practices are very big on the financial responsibility disclosures, consent-to-treat, and privacy policies, but few have a mobile device policy,” he notes. Make sure your patient mobile device policy notes that in the case of violation, the practice retains the right to engage legal services, and that it would be the patient’s responsibility to pay for associated costs.