Numbers: The Critical Distraction Index

When you're in open-heart surgery, what is the technician up to?

By Amy Barth
Mar 21, 2012 5:00 AMNov 12, 2019 5:02 AM


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55 The percentage of technicians admitting they talk on cell phones while monitoring the machines that keep blood pumping during open-heart surgery. Professors who teach technicians at SUNY Upstate Medical University surveyed 439 bypass machine operators in 2010, also learning that 50 percent texted during surgery, even though 78 percent believe phone use could put patient safety at risk. “Behind the machine there’s a lot you do subconsciously. It’s like driving a car,” says study author Bruce Searles. “Sometimes there are less than 10 seconds to respond if something goes wrong.” 

So why are operators on their phones? “These are not just distractions but essential tools,” says Searles, who urges the creation of guidelines as cell phones increasingly displace beepers to communicate information to staff. Currently, less than 1 percent of medical centers teach appropriate interaction with cell phones, according to anesthesiologist Peter Papadakos of the University of Rochester.

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