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Cell Phone Sickness: Tool or Toy?

Thursday, October 19, 2017   (1 Comments)
Posted by: Chad Prince, Anniston Orthopaedics
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The cell phone that’s in your hands right now (or maybe in your pocket, or your purse), is it a tool, or a toy?

Your staff what about their cell phones? And your doctors what about theirs? It’s all in how it’s being used, right?

A more important question may be what do patients think if they see someone scrolling up and down a cell phone?

Everyone faces this problem. Some clinics take the challenge head on. Others look the other way.  After all, how can a strict policy be enforced if doctors and practice leaders are seen using their phones all the time?

Deeper than the discussion of policy, there is a bigger problem involving cell phones. Our society as a whole is addicted. Perhaps there is a tiny burst of epinephrine that is released when we see the bright screen; perhaps we crave the fulfillment we have from connecting with others; or maybe we just can’t get enough of the digital world… or, could there be something deeper driving our addiction?

"The reason you’re checking your cellphone email Facebook Twitter right now is…you don’t know what else to do.”

-Perry Marshall, Bestselling Author, Entrepreneur, Consultant

 

 If it’s true that our society is looking for direction from our cell phones on what to think, what to feel, or what to do next, then the impact of these choices is certain to show up inside a medical practice with both employees and even leadership.

How are practices dealing with the problem?

Let’s look at four practices, from one to 29 physicians, who enforce their policies in unique ways.

 

ONE PHYSICIAN, SEVEN EMPLOYEES

Susan Brower, a Practice Executive in Birmingham, Alabama, says, “We had so many people with so much time on cell phones that if you walked up and asked a question they would hold their hand up for you to wait.”

This was before she enforced a very strict cell phone rule. Her policy? She doesn’t have one. But her method is unforgettable.

“I have a basket on my desk. Everyday everyone brings me their cell phone. They have their name on the back. If it rings, I answer it. If it’s urgent, I get the employee. If it’s a gossip call, then I don’t. Word got out that this is how we do it and calls reduced.”

Brower says this method has been very successful for quite some time, but she started it before smartphones put the internet and Facebook in everyone’s hands.

“It was amazing when we first went to this,” Brower says, “we got so much work done.”

Technology has advanced, and now this practice has an exception. “One employee gets encrypted messages from the hospital, so one person has a cell phone now.”

 

SEVEN PHYSICIANS, 60 EMPLOYEES

 Tony Wallace, a Practice Executive in Gadsden, Alabama, says that in their clinic cell phones are permitted, but they are supposed to be turned off, and are not to be used in the presence of physicians or patients.

The exact policy follows:

Policy: [practice] expects employees to focus their attention on the patient and to always be attentive to the physicians’ needs. While [practice] understands that cell phones are an efficient and effective means of communication, the policy of [practice] with regards to cell phones is:

  1. Cell phones should not be used to access the internet or play games during work hours.
  2.  Cell phone conversations and texting should be kept to a minimum.
  3. Cell phones should not be used in the presence of a patient or while attending physicians.

“We have a physician,” says Wallace, “who feels if he is going to use his phone and keep it available, then he does not want to tell other people they cannot have their phones for their children.

“Physicians use their phones to communicate with staff. Other practice administrators call my cell phone, and I end up doing a lot of work on my phone.”

What Wallace describes is common everywhere—overcoming perceived hypocrisy is a great challenge for practices.

“We don’t always have good compliance with our policy, but truly, I don’t know if we would have staff it we were too strict with it.”

 

11 PHYSICIANS, 100 EMPLOYEES

Ryan Luchner, a Practice Executive in Montgomery, Alabama, describes how their policy defines different staff roles where cell phones are restricted or permitted.

“We don’t allow support staff to have their phones with them while they are performing their job responsibilities. Those that require cell phones (clinical and management staff) are allowed to use them, but they need to be out of sight of patients.”

Luchner makes an effort to lead by example. “I don’t use my phone while I’m on the floor. If I have to answer a call or something, I get out of sight of patients and staff.”

Key to this policy working: enforcement. “First, I’ll tell someone to put their phone away. We might even joke about how I caught them. Then it gets more serious. I have taken a phone and told the staff member they could get it back at the end of the day.”

Even though he provides a good example and does apply corrective discipline, Luchner is realistic. “I’d be naive to think no one uses their cell phone during the day, but I hope not to catch you.”

 

29 PHYSICIANS, 185 EMPLOYEES

Patrick Page, a Practice Executive of a large practice in Mobile, Alabama, provides an interesting wrinkle in an otherwise standard policy:

Using cell phones while driving a vehicle on Company business is not allowed. This policy applies whether the vehicle is owned by the Company or by the employee; and also whether the phone is owned by the Company or by the employee.

While texting while driving is against the law in Alabama, the practice has taken additional steps to protect itself by making it clear that cell phone use while driving is against company policy.

Like other practices, Page says their cell phone policy is hard to enforce. “When physicians use their phones all the time, it’s hard to enforce a strict rule.”

The practice does take steps to limit internet access. “We restrict network access with WiFi, and we do that on our desktop workstations, too, but that doesn’t stop an employee’s personal data plan.”

 

CELL PHONE POLICIES WITH STRONG SIGNAL

 Addressing the problem of cell phone usage is not as simple as writing a new policy or policies. Joni Wyatt, MHA, MHIA, CPHIMS, FHIMSS, a Healthcare Advisor in Birmingham, Alabama, provides these guidelines:

Every practice is different and the degree to which cell phone usage is accepted or even necessary as part of a job will vary significantly. That being said, the policies and procedures established by a practice should reflect acceptable cell phone use for all employees of the practice, including management. For positions where cell phone use is essential, policies should further elaborate on acceptable use based on job role or responsibility. Finally, the policies and procedures established should be enforced. If a policy is too strict that enforcement is not operationally feasible, then the policy should be adjusted. In the end, it is often worse to have a policy that is “selectively” enforced, rather than not have a policy at all.

 

CONCLUSIONS

No matter if your practice is small with a strict cell phone policy, or large with a look- the-other-way mentality, we all face the same problem:

If we don’t know what we need to do next, or if we just don’t want to do it, the temptation is always there to pull out our phones and check our email, Facebook, or find some other distraction.

We can’t get away from this, so we have to manage it. Also, we have to realize the impact of our own example. If we want to enforce a strict policy, then we need to avoid using our own cell phones in front of employees and encourage all practice leaders to do the same.

When cell phones are are used as tools for key job responsibilities, policies are essential. Practices can better implement and enforce cell phone policies by defining roles or situations where usage is restricted and where it is allowed.

Sometimes cell phones are toys, or they simply don’t belong. Every practice mentioned in this article restricts cell phone use in front of physicians and patients. One even has language in their policy about avoiding cell phone usage while driving. In these cases, it doesn’t matter how or why they are being used, using them at all might be harmful to the practice.

 

About the Author

Chad Prince, Administrator at Anniston Orthopaedics in Anniston, Alabama.

Comments...

Susan Brower says...
Posted Thursday, October 26, 2017
Thanks so much to Chad. Great article!

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