Epilepsy Talk

Doctors Distracted by Electronic Devices… | February 18, 2017

Do you know what happens during surgery? Cut…open…correct…sew. Maybe some background music. Hip if the doctor likes that. Or classical.

Well, not exactly.

You might be surprised. Or horrified to learn the truth.

How about your technician who’s running the bypass machine texting during the procedure…

Or the nurse checking airfares…

And your neurosurgeon chatting away on a personal phone call?

That’s right. Electronic devices have not only taken over our culture. They’ve taken over the operating room!

While some medical schools are teaching would-be doctors to use electronic devices – hopefully for diagnostic purposes – other medical staff prefer to check eBay.

Various high-profile cases have illustrated the deadly effects that doctor distraction can have.

In 2011, a Texas woman died after her oxygen levels fell during surgery. The anesthesiologist, who failed to notice the issue for 20 minutes, was accused of emailing and texting during the procedure.

In 2014, comedian Joan Rivers passed away due to complications during a throat surgery. During the operation, one doctor took cell phone photos of the comedian. Investigators didn’t find that this behavior directly caused the complications, but it may have contributed to the final outcome.

In another case, a resident began using her phone to enter an order to discontinue an inpatient’s blood-thinner order. In the middle of doing that, the resident was distracted by a text message from a friend asking about plans for an upcoming party.

She never finished entering the order, and the patient later required open-heart surgery to remove blood filling the sac around his heart.


It’s a problem. And an epidemic.









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  1. I’d an op with local anesthetic to remove a VNS, got all the news about their holidays,, but what really shocked me was when a nurse asked the doc would he need a stool as he was getting so tired, nope, he had to finish fast and go to help another doc on another op!! He was annoyed because my VNS was an older version, too big and difficult to get out. left me with metal wires so I can’t have MRI scans any more


    Comment by Gail Barry — February 19, 2017 @ 3:56 AM

  2. Well Gail, that really stinks.

    I had something similar happen. The surgeon stitched me up all nice and pretty and left the resident to do the second layer.

    I got an infection so bad, that later blood was spurting out of the staples.

    Turned out, he had to remove some of the staples to incise the infection. That’s after going EVERY day to try to determine the damage. 😦


    Comment by Phylis Feiner Johnson — February 19, 2017 @ 10:25 AM

  3. Having worked in surgery before you were not allowed. They had to be put in a locker or safe.


    Comment by red2robi — February 19, 2017 @ 11:25 AM

  4. Well, that would be a comfort, but what now?


    Comment by Phylis Feiner Johnson — February 19, 2017 @ 11:36 AM

    • That was in the 90’s. Gee! Do I have to show my age again! This was at a teaching famous University Medical Center!


      Comment by red2robi — February 19, 2017 @ 3:17 PM

  5. I’m OLDER. So there. 63 and counting. And the only University Center I know was the old Cornell University Medical Center on First Ave. in NYC where I was diagnosed in 1969!!! 🙂


    Comment by Phylis Feiner Johnson — February 19, 2017 @ 6:03 PM

  6. When I had my resection for some reason the CSF fluid wasn’t properly flowing and building up in my skull. I went back to the hospital twice and they just gave me more drugs and told me to prop the bed up MORE than just the one layer of wedges!

    Third time I had a friend (medical training) bring me down after she saw the seepage and took a photo of it. They realized there was a problem and had to redo some of the stitching as well as do a ventriculostomy (temporary drainage from the skull cavity). They verified I did not have an infection in the fluid and drained off the excess. Then they closed the line for a couple days to make sure it wouldn’t build up again and everything was working properly.

    No idea why that all happened. Likely when they closed something wasn’t done 100%. The surgeon explained it as “the plumbing” wasn’t quite right and they needed to fix it.


    Comment by Travis — February 21, 2017 @ 1:52 AM

  7. “Prop the bed up with MORE than just one layer of wedges?”

    A “plumbing” mistake?


    (It’s amazing that you didn’t have an infection.)


    Comment by Phylis Feiner Johnson — February 21, 2017 @ 9:20 AM

  8. Now, I’m getting worried. The neurosurgeon who did my three VNS’ (yep, three, since 2001) was the same man, and we built up a rapport. I’m 69-going-on, and hoping he’s going to be my surgeon again when I’m in need of a new R&R. If not, here’s hoping everyone I know is thinking good-doc thoughts!


    Comment by catsissie — February 21, 2017 @ 4:43 PM

  9. Well, your good doc sounds like a “keeper”! 🙂


    Comment by Phylis Feiner Johnson — February 21, 2017 @ 5:31 PM

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    About the author

    Phylis Feiner Johnson

    Phylis Feiner Johnson

    I've been a professional copywriter for over 35 years. I also had epilepsy for decades. My mission is advocacy; to increase education, awareness and funding for epilepsy research. Together, we can make a huge difference. If not changing the world, at least helping each other, with wisdom, compassion and sharing.

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