A few weeks ago, I had the misfortune of ending up as an inpatient in the hospital. After two days of testing and observation, I was reassured that all is fine with my health, but this time gave me the chance to observe how things are from the other side of medical care.

Many medical providers, including myself, have complained about patient cell phone use in the exam room. However, it seems patients are not the only ones who have trouble knowing when it is appropriate to use a cell phone.  Every single physician who came into my room took at least one phone call in the middle of speaking with me.

The calls that the physicians took were thankfully not personal, but regarding other patients or clinical issues. I knew this because they had entire conversations on their phones at my bedside. One doctor even mentioned a patient name and test results, a clear HIPAA violation that made me very uncomfortable.

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I understand that emergencies happen when you are the provider on call. When I am in a patient room and my phone rings, I either excuse myself and walk out to take the call, or turn the ringer off and let the caller leave a message for me to return later in private.

Similar to when patients use their phones during a visit, I found the providers’ cell phone use aggravating, interrupting the little time I had with them. The constant ringing and beeping disrupted the flow of care and made me feel unimportant.

On the other hand, I never saw one nurse with a cell phone in his or her hand during my stay. Even when their hospital phones rang, they all excused themselves and left the room before answering the patient’s call.  

I truly believe it is enlightening to be the patient every now and again. I know I will be more aware of my cell phone use when I am with a patient from now on. Unless it is an absolute emergency, phone conversations should be held away from the bedside. Just as providers deserve a patient’s full attention, patients do not need to compete with a provider’s cell phone.  

Robyn Carlisle, MSN, CNM, WHNP, works as a full-scope midwife at University Doctors and Kennedy University Hospital in Sewell, N.J.