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Technology doesn’t hurt people, but irresponsible use of it can

After all this positive news for tech in healthcare, there comes something on a more disheartening note. A recently-published New York Times article gives an in-depth view of some of the apparent problems of mobile healthcare IT in (at least a few) hospitals.

It makes for an interesting, sometimes scandalous read complete with accounts of texting and personal phone calls made during medical procedures. One such incident involved a neurosurgeon who made over 10 calls during brain surgery. He also made a crucial mistake that resulted in partial paralyzation for his patient.

It’s a sad story, and one that could all too easily point the blame at tech in medical practices. But it’s also a story that could have been avoided with simple common sense, a trait we’re fairly certain everyone would love to find in their brain surgeon. It’s completely unacceptable.

Besides that, the article is really about two separate things: The first is the irresponsible use of technology for personal reasons (texting during anesthesia, checking eBay at nurse’s stations, calling during surgery), which has little to do with EHRs and health IT, and more to do with individual hospital policy. And the other side of the coin is the inherent dilemma of how much attention is being paid to the patient while using new technology.

While in the examination room, for instance, doctors and patients want the focus to be on the patient, not the tech. This is an acceptable topic to arise for debate and constructive criticism. It has to do with the technology and how it’s making trips to the doctor better, how it’s enriching lives. Discussion on best practices for keeping the focus on the patient while incorporating helpful IT advances is healthy.

The former topic, however, shouldn’t exist as a legitimate problem. People shouldn’t be getting hurt due to irresponsible personal use of phones or devices.

Remember the Hippocratic Oath: A huge part of it is to do no harm.

After all, in these cases, it wasn’t the technology doing harm; it was the irresponsible, and quite frankly, stupid use of it.