Recent studies have diagnosed a growing problem in operating rooms: Distracted doctors and surgical staff are often texting or surfing the web while performing patient procedures. It's led to medical errors and lawsuits.
"My gut feeling is lives are in danger," a doctor and author of one of the studies told The New York Times. "We're not educating people about the problem, and it's getting worse."
Case in point: a patient in Colorado who was left partly paralyzed, allegedly by a distracted doctor. The neurosurgeon made at least 10 personal calls on his cell phone during the operation, the patient's lawyer told The Times.
The patient's lawsuit was settled out of court, and the lawyer declined to provide more details.
While medical professionals are expected to multitask, experts say distracted doctors are taking it to a dangerous new level. The Times quoted doctors who've witnessed others texting, updating Facebook, and shopping at Amazon and eBay during surgery.
And it's not just distracted doctors. Half of heart-monitor technicians say they've texted during surgery, according to a survey in Perfusion, a heart-surgery journal. Even more technicians, 55%, say they've made cell phone calls while in surgery -- though 40% admitted it was an unsafe practice.
Distracted doctors could be sued for medical mistakes caused by inattentiveness. For example, injured patients may have a claim for medical malpractice; such cases usually require expert testimony to prove the surgeon failed to properly care for the patient.
Hospitals that employ distracted doctors could also face lawsuits under the legal theory of "respondeat superior," which holds an employer liable for employees' negligence. However, some hospitals only give doctors "staff privileges," which limits the hospital's supervisory role.
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