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The Dog Ate My BlackBerry

Molly Rowe, for HealthLeaders Media, February 15, 2008

Earlier this month, I escaped to the beach with my husband and his BlackBerry. The BlackBerry and I did everything together. We read books on the beach, drank fruity drinks, and dined at water's edge. Yes, my husband was attached to the BlackBerry somewhere, but for the most part, it was just me and the little guy in blue.

I'm not completely innocent of PDA abuse. I've been known to take a look during especially long meetings or at conferences when the content seems particularly dry. Like everyone, I've read the negative press about PDAs--the risks of being "over-connected" and the prevalence of the "BlackBerry thumb." But an article I read in this month's Harvard Business Review might be the most compelling anti-PDA argument I've seen.

Titled "The BlackBerry Ate My Accountability," the article argues that PDAs have become "excuse technology"--enabling users to transfer responsibility to electronic devices and away from themselves.

The article references a 2007 congressional subcommittee hearing in which the U.S. General Services Administration was being investigated for holding brown bag lunches at which GSA appointees were inappropriately urged to use their positions to elect Republicans. When interviewed under oath, GSA head Lurita Doan said she didn't know what went on at the lunches because, although she'd attended, she wasn't paying attention--she was on her BlackBerry when the supposed untoward behavior took place.

Who hasn't sat in a meeting with a colleague stuck to his PDA? I usually shrug these people off as either very busy or exceptionally rude, but this HBR article suggests it runs deeper than that. Is the PDA an accepted way to avoid involvement and future blame? If you spend meetings e-mailing, you never have to go out on a limb with an idea or an unpopular opinion. You don't have to agree or disagree, and ultimately, you can't be held accountable for any decisions made because you, after all, were busy answering e-mails.

Healthcare is a 24-hour industry, and PDAs enable leaders to stay connected all the time. While executives use personal devices to report and investigate patient safety breakdowns, compliance issues, and staffing incidences, senior leaders shouldn't spend so much time looking down that they miss what's going on around them. Physicians who use PDAs to update patient data, look up specific information about a disease or condition, and file prescriptions must ensure that they spend patient visits looking at patients rather than personal devices.

And if a meeting isn't important enough to require attendees' full attention, the meeting shouldn't happen. Nowhere is accountability as important as in healthcare; don't let technology undermine yours.


Molly Rowe is leadership editor with HealthLeaders magazine. She can be reached at mrowe@healthleadersmedia.com.

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