When smartphones first became ubiquitous, observers raised concerns: “How can we avoid the risks of smartphone distraction in healthcare?” There were serious discussions about distracted doctoring, and many hospitals adopted mobile device policies. Texting from the operating room even led to lawsuits.
A decade later, smartphones are so routine we forget how they impact our attention. The average American checks their phone 344 times a day. That’s once every 4 minutes or five times in 20 minutes, the length of a typical patient visit.
Doctors need a smartphone notification strategy that helps them stay focused and efficient at the clinic. While you used to do this manually, iPhone users now have a superior solution: Apple’s Focus feature.
The risks of smartphone distraction
There are many legitimate reasons to use your smartphone at work. You might need to communicate with colleagues, keep up with medical news, or consult a clinical reference tool. You might use your device for mobile dictation or to streamline your documentation workflow.
But most physicians use the same smartphone for work and personal communication. Therefore, you might be interrupted by text messages and non-urgent calls from friends and family while at work.
It’s challenging to balance responding promptly with staying focused on patients and charting. You might feel like you have to respond immediately or the people trying to reach you will feel ignored. Or you might be worried about the backlog of messages that will accumulate by the time you leave the clinic.
These concerns are legitimate, but smartphone distraction in healthcare negatively impacts you and your patients.
Patients prefer doctors who don’t use computers in the exam room. Similarly, using your smartphone around patients can decrease their satisfaction because they feel like you aren’t paying attention to them. But even more importantly, texting while doctoring can be a safety hazard. Cognitive science has shown that engaging in a secondary task disrupts primary task performance. So anytime you pick up your smartphone, you become less effective at whatever you are doing in the clinic.
Just as relevant for physicians is the fact that multitasking is inefficient. All those messages and notifications you get diminish charting efficiency. If you want to complete your notes quickly and get home for dinner, smartphone distraction makes that more challenging.
How to manage iPhone notifications: a guide for doctors
How can you use your smartphone as a clinical tool but avoid the pitfalls of smartphone distraction in healthcare? There’s now a handy solution for doctors using iPhones: Apple’s new Focus feature.
Focus is a setting that silences notifications and lets people know you’re busy. It’s different than Airplane Mode because you can create several Focuses with different settings and schedule them at different times. Focus comes built-in with iOS 15 and iPadOS 15, but many doctors don’t use it.
Apple’s Focus includes several features that make it much easier to avoid distractions at work:
- Customize notifications: You can create different Focus modes and customize them to only allow notifications from specific people and apps. For example, you could customize your “Work” Focus to only allow texts and calls from colleagues.
- Schedule Focus: You can turn a Focus on manually or schedule it to turn on automatically, for example, during your regular work times.
- Share that you’re busy: If you choose to “Share your Focus Status,” people who message you will automatically know that you have notifications silenced.
Here’s how to set up Work Focus on your iPhone:
Consider what notifications, messages, and calls help you focus at the hospital or clinic. These might include colleagues who contact you regularly or apps you use for documentation or patient messaging. Then go to Settings → Focus → Work and add those apps and contacts under “Allowed Notifications.”
Next, adjust the settings under “Turn On Automatically” to make your Work focus the default on days and times you work.
Finally, add any personal contacts you want to allow calls from while at work. Be discerning but consider allowing calls from anyone who might contact you in an emergency.
To quickly change your Focus manually, open the Control Center, press-and-hold “Focus,” and pick from Work, Sleep, Personal, or any custom Focus you’ve created.
Every doctor using an iPhone should set up Focus to avoid distractions at the clinic or while charting. Visit Apple’s support page: Use Focus on your iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch to learn more about Focus.