Even the sharpest and most dedicated clinicians can be driven to distraction when it matters most. Focus zones and cross monitoring can help maintain patient safety.
The other day, after reading a vitriolic Facebook post from an in-law which implored me and other "friends" to unfriend this person if we disagreed, I found myself unable to concentrate on my morning routine.
By the time I made my way to the car, my mind was filled snarky comebacks, questions about what might happen at our next family gathering, and thoughts about how unfriending this person might affect my relationship with other family members.
Preoccupied, I hit the highway. When I arrived at my office about half an hour later, I found that my laptop case was not in its usual place in the trunk of my car. For the first time in 10 years, I had become distracted enough to leave it at home.
Michelle Feil, MSN, RN, CPPS, senior patient safety analyst at the Pennsylvania Patient Safety Authority in Harrisburg calls this a prime example of distracted behavior.
"You may not realize you are being distracted by your own thoughts until after the error occurs… If you see a post on social media that you keep thinking about, you may forget that you have to go to a medical appointment, and [you] drive to work instead of the doctor's office."
This drama plays out daily in all industries, and social media is just one distracting factor, says Mindy Yoder, DNP, RN, FNP-BC, dean of the school of health sciences at University of Saint Francis in Fort Wayne, IN.
"There's a lot going on in our culture, and distractions are prevalent. It's a faster-living society…. There is lots of information coming at us," she says. A study Yoder published in 2012 found that nurses are interrupted on average eight to 15 times per hour. Common distractions include call lights, phone calls, colleagues, patients, and their families.
Not Your Average Distraction
The healthcare environment is inherently distracting, says Feil.
"We have technology and processes in place that are actually designed to distract us. We use these to communicate with each other and patients, or for them to communicate with us. These tools (cell phones, pagers, and intercoms) are supposed to distract us to get our attention," she says.
Lena J. Weiner is an associate editor at HealthLeaders Media.