I looked her in the eye and said calmly: If you answer that phone, our visit is over. You will need to reschedule.
She stares at the phone with that same look I have seen in the eyes of heroin addict. It is hard for her to lift her eyes to meet mine. “What?” She asks honestly confused.
I said that if you don’t turn the cell phone off I will leave the room and you can reschedule. I won’t compete for your attention.
Again, she seems confused; “Why? Does it mess up the equipment?”
“Firstly, it is rude. Secondly, it is distracting to me. But most importantly if whatever is on the other end of that phone is more important than your sick child, you need to go right now and take care of it. You need to be here in this visit with your child for 10 minutes”
“Okay”. She doesn’t turn it off. She puts it down, screen up on her thigh. The toddler is nervous, but she doesn’t notice the kiddos body language in the same way she notices the phone calling her.
We go back to the visit. The father looks at the mother, clearly annoyed, but she doesn’t notice. She is stealing glances down at the screen and pretending to be present. She isn’t.
The child has candy apple red ear drums and cries when I touch the pinna as gently as I can. It is hard for the mother to help comfort the child, because she only has the one hand for the child, the other is on the phone.
I am talking to the parents about the diagnosis, medications, the risks and benefits. During this, I start typing the prescription into the computer and ask the mother a question, she doesn’t answer. She is texting. I am annoyed but the visit is nearly over except for the discussion about the medications, risk and benefits, supportive care and what to watch for.
She asks me what I just said. I told her that I am not repeating. The father was listening and she would have to ask him. The father gave her another annoyed look, but she didn’t notice. I can tell that she truly doesn’t get it. She doesn’t understand that her behavior is not just rude, but unsafe. It is important that you understand what I am telling you. Really.
This happens more often that I can count. I no longer ask for the patient’s attention more than once. The signs are posted everywhere. The Medical Assistant tells them that the must turn them off. If they are on the phone when I come in, I tell them I will come back in a while. I don’t mind if they are playing games to pass time, but calling the phone company, their bestie for lunch is not okay. I tell them after I see the next patient, that the cell phone needs to be off.
At least one a week when I walk into an exam room, I have a patient put their hand up to tell me that they will be with me in just a few. One motioned for me to come in and wait. Seriously.
If whatever it is cannot wait for our 10 minute visit, I don’t want you to come into the office for a visit. If POTUS can give a 30 minute speech without checking his blackberry, so can you.
I don’t carry my cell phone into patient rooms. If my family needs to reach me urgently, they know the land line number and they can reach me. You need to arrange your sitter, dog walker, girl scout cookie, facebook status update, electric bill and parole office contact in any other time slot. You can reschedule with me at a more convenient time.