Legal / Ethical | Nursing Practices

Smartphones in Healthcare: Should They Be Allowed?

  • Smartphones are present in almost every individual’s day to day activities including work. 
  • Smartphones in healthcare either benefit patients and providers or pose a risk. 
  • The question is how far is too far? 

Amy White

RN-MSN – Chief Nursing Officer

May 13, 2022
Simmons University

Smartphones are such an integral part of almost everyone’s individual day to day activities involving work, life, appointments, social media, retrieval of information, and mode of communication via calls, texts, or emails.   

In examining the use of smartphones among nurses, there are some risks involved that can be detrimental.  On the other hand, smartphones in healthcare can also be a benefit.

Pros of Smartphones in Healthcare

  • Communication is streamlined to where nurses can get in touch with other health care team members immediately. Getting accurate information to the right people at the right time is crucial for many patients and their individual situations.

  • Reference materials can be accessed using smartphones and other information about medications, health conditions, procedures, etc. can be accessed easily and quickly.

  • Apps can enhance the practice of nursing.  There are numerous apps that can be downloaded to a smartphone that consist of time management, patient monitoring, medical information, and clinical decision making that can all be accessed and used by nurses. Many facilities do not have these programs and functions on their current computer information systems.  Also, nurses can use note-taking apps to document treatment in a timely fashion to avoid any breakdown of communication in case the facilities’ computer systems fail.

    smartphones in healthcare a problem

    Cons of Smartphones in Healthcare

    • Attention is divided if nurses have down time. They may use their phones as a form of entertainment instead of focusing on patient care.  Smartphones can also distract nurses from performing certain tasks they should be doing such as monitoring patients, administering medications, and charting.  If a nurse is multitasking with his/her phone, the risk of making mistakes increases greatly.

    • Attachment to phones can cause nurses to ignore protocol.  Instead of nurses using any spare time they have to make rounds and check on patients, they may be too attached to checking their phones instead.  This can cause poor care and the patients ultimately suffer.

    • Security concerns are another issue that is experienced by smartphone usage. There are personal networks that do not require a password or are unsecure and this can create a breach in the patient’s personal information.

    • Smartphones have been shown to decrease nurses’ ability to perform their work despite nurses not realizing the effects.  In a 2015 study, 800 participants were asked if their work performance had been negatively affected by mobile phone usage and only 7.4% reported a decrease in work performance.  However, 70.9% of respondents reported that a colleague’s work performance had been affected.  Many times, the individuals themselves do not recognize the impact, but others can notice it considerably.


    smartphones in healthcare

    Legal Considerations of Smartphones in Healthcare

    While nurses may be using personal smartphones for clinical communication and reasoning, federal laws such as HIPAA could be violated due to the invasion of privacy that can exist.  Also, if nurses are using their smartphones to send protected health information (PHI), the Nurse Practice Act is being violated.   

    By choosing to send PHI through a personal smartphone, these actions could lead to financial fines, loss of employment, legal sentencing, and loss of nursing license.   

    One single breach could open up the possibility of patients’ data experiencing identity theft in a medical sense.  

    According to a study conducted in 2015, the leading cause of healthcare data breaches are due to criminal attacks and these attacks increased by 125% from the previous five years. 

    Healthcare organizations maintain a vast amount of financial and personal information related to each patient and many do not have the resources to fully protect and prevent attacks. The costs of a healthcare breach is expensive at $363 per identifiable patient record exposed and a data breach is $154 on average.


    Ethical Considerations of Smartphones in Healthcare

    It’s also important to recognize that although smartphones can be helpful in certain instances, nurses should refrain from using their personal devices at work while giving patient care due to the huge distraction it creates.   

    Distractions of any kind can act as a culprit for serious medical errors and injuries among patients.  Nurses who are using their personal devices for non-work-related reasons such as texting, social media, and connections with others outside of work while on the clock are allowing an arena for errors to occur due to decreased attention levels.

    Along with distractions, the lack of connectedness with patients seems to be a lingering issue.  As technology is integrated more and more into healthcare, the opportunities are becoming less and less to truly care for the patients and to connect with patients in a holistic manner.

    While smartphones in healthcare seem to offer some advantages for the quality of patient care, measures must be taken to ensure that private and sensitive data remains safe and secure.   

    Due to this, it is imperative that healthcare providers have policies in place for the use of smartphones based on regulations set forth by the state and federal requirements in order to assist in preventing secure data being exchanged on unsecure devices, and networks.  Healthcare organizations also need to ascertain they have professionals in place who specialize in cybersecurity to provide a review of any breaches that may occur.

    smartphones in healthcare helpful


    The Bottom Line

    There is no denying that smartphones in healthcare do have a place in assisting individuals to obtain quick access for medical information retrieval. But with all the monetary costs that each organization invests in order to have valid, up-to-date, and evidence-based access to online materials, should these personal devices be allowed?   

    There should be limits as to when they should be used and how. These limits should be enforced in order for nurses to be discouraged from using their devices for reasons other than work-related issues that can ultimately cause great distractions and decreased quality of care among the patients. 

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