July 3, 2008

Cell Phones and the Doctor’s Office

Filed under: Personal Blog, Software Blog — marcstober @ 2:01 am

Why is it that someone else talking on a cell phone in public is impolite, and when you’re the one talking on a cell phone, it’s an important call? I find it curious that people will pass judgment on someone without knowing the caller’s situation.

Recently I went to an urgent care appointment at a very large group medical practice. I was irritated by signs in the waiting room telling you to turn off your phone when you enter the building. There are many legitimate reasons to be on the phone in the waiting room:

  • Your spouse dropped you off at the front door since your foot was hurt, and you need to tell him where to find you once he parks the car.
  • You need to tell a babysitter that your appointment is running late.
  • To tell your boss a family emergency has come up, you’re at the doctor, and you’ll miss that meeting it took two months to set up.
  • You need support after a bad diagnosis. (Or, you got a good result and need to tell your mom to stop worrying.)

Whatever the reason, it’s more important to you than anything going on in the waiting room. Yes, you should respect other people waiting, but is being considerate to strangers really more important than showing respect to people you know by keeping them informed as you deal with a medical issue?

(Maybe this is “sign inflation”–they don’t care if everyone turns off their cell phones, so long as it keeps the volume down, and they can point to the sign if they have to tell someone to be quiet. Not my idea of compassionate care, though.)

There’s an idea that medicine is such a serious matter it must be more important than whatever you’re talking about; some hospitals have banned cell phone use for fear of radio interference with medical equipment. Today, major hospitals use mobile phones, and even WiFi, for communication among doctors and nurses, and recognize that patients and families need to keep in touch. As with anything, the technology isn’t the problem, it’s a question of how you use it.

  • I completely agree with you. Using your cell phone in public is okay as long as you make sure you are not distracting others by the volume of your voice or by the volume of your cell phone. Communication is very important, and cell phones send messages faster.

  • Mia

    One of my doctor’s offices has a sign that says cell phone signals can interfere with the operation of some of the equipment in use. Maybe that’s the reason. If so, you should respect it.

  • marcstober

    @Mia: studies like this one at the Mayo Clinic have shown that cell phones don’t really interfere with the equipment. Even studies that show some interference at high transmission power require the cell phones to be in close proximity to critical medical equipment–not in the waiting room, and in any case if your life is dependent on being in a medical facility hooked up to equipment, you need to be in a hospital, not your doctors office.

    What bothers me is when the technology is used as a excuse. Tell people to be more considerate in a crowded waiting room, don’t blame technology for the problem. Since some of the most advanced hospitals with the most sensitive equipment do allow cell phone use in most parts of the building, it’s hard to believe that an outpatient office really has an issue with interference.

  • What I especially love are the signs stating that cell phones are prohibited under HIPAA requirements (which is often seen in doctors offices around Philly).

    This is utter nonsense. There is no such requirement under HIPAA. Further, any information loudly announced in the waiting room by office staff that could be overheard over a cell phone would nonetheless a HIPAA violation as to those seated in the waiting room.

    As you note, courtesy is what is needed. Phone on vibrate and quiet speaking voice (or better yet, stepping into the hall to take a call, as I tend to do). However, unless doctors shorten waiting times for scheduled appointments, they can hardly expect that people should just sit around for extended periods twiddling thumbs (without being tempted to use the thumbs on the phone).

  • “Yes, you should respect other people waiting, but is being considerate to strangers really more important than showing respect to people you know by keeping them informed as you deal with a medical issue?”nnHow about if you go out in the hall and make that call? Yes, it is possible to be considerate to strangers and show respect to your loved ones at the same time. All it takes is common sense, which is a commodity that seems to go flying out the window when normally level headed considerate people have a cell phone in their hands.