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Cell Phone Use and Text Messaging Interfere With Optimal Care

Earlier today I was walking my pal Buster when I saw something curious. A car was traveling up a street at a snail's pace. Four...

Dr. Eric Barchas  |  Jun 10th 2010


Earlier today I was walking my pal Buster when I saw something curious. A car was traveling up a street at a snail’s pace. Four cars were stacked behind it. As the lead car got close, I saw why it was going so slowly. The driver was texting.

Huge numbers of people are addicted to their cell phones. Like smoking, cell phone addiction can be deleterious not only to one’s own health, but to the health of one’s pet. What I saw today reminded me of some incidents that occurred a few years ago.

I was working my way through a busy schedule at the office. I entered an exam room for my next appointment and found that my patient’s owner was on his cell phone. I waited a minute or two for him to hang up, but he continued his conversation. Since there were several other pets and people waiting, and since the man did not appear to be in a hurry, I left the room and saw the patient who was next in line. After that, I returned to the first room.

The man was mad. Actually, he was beyond mad. He was incensed that I had skipped him. I thought my actions made sense but he didn’t see it my way. He left the office in a huff.

The next day I entered an exam room for an appointment and found a different client on her cell phone. She immediately ended the conversation and we got down to the business of treating her pet. I mentioned the previous day’s incident. She told me a story that blew my mind.

Her friend was a preeminent physician who specialized in treating breast cancer. The physician’s patients, who often had waited several months for an appointment, also could not pry themselves from their cell phones when their long-sought opportunity to speak with an eminent expert was at hand. The physician had developed a different tactic. She would wait in the room while her patient spoke on the phone, but she stuck to her schedule and ended every appointment right on time. Some patients chose to gab for the entire appointment. In that case, the physician would leave the room and charge the patient for the office visit. If the patient wanted to be seen again, she had to re-schedule — which generally meant waiting several more months for a potentially life saving appointment.

Over the years I have tried many tricks to deal with cell phone addicts. My current favorite is to enter the exam room and begin the appointment no matter what. I pretend that the client is not busy chatting or texting. I start talking to them and asking questions as if I had their undivided attention. This forces them into a choice: talk to the person whose time they’re paying for, or talk to their friend. It’s a difficult choice for many people.

I may sound like an old man for saying this (although in my experience elderly people are among the worst cell phone addicts), but there is nothing wrong with being unconnected every now and then. Using your cell phones in doctors’ offices is not just rude. It costs you and your pet time and attention from someone who is trying to help you.