Should nurses be allowed to use their personal cell phones while at work?
Nurses working twelve-hour shifts may leave home at dawn and return home after dark. A twelve-hour shift is a very long time to sever your cord to the outside world.
While employees are urged to have their family members call the nurses’ station in case of emergency, what about situations that aren’t emergent but are urgent?
Tyra is a single Mom who works 12 hour shifts and can’t be out of communication with her children.
Jenifer’s elderly mother needs to be able to contact her throughout the day.
Tyra’s and Jenifer’s situations rarely (thankfully) rise to the level of emergency but are concerning nonetheless.
The pharmacist with a question about your mother’s insurance or a neighbor who saw your dog get out may not be emergency calls but may require immediate attention.
Consequences and Morale
It’s fairly common for facilities to ban the use of personal cell phones by nurses while on duty altogether.
The problem is that drawing such a black and white hard line results in micromanagement by managers, and sneakage by nurses, both of which hurt morale.
Morale also suffers when employees are assumed to be untrustworthy. Someone once told me of a manager who made her employees empty their pockets to show they were not carrying. Try as I might, I can’t unhear that.
On this same unit, nurses were told they could only check their phones while on break in the break room where they all had lockers.
Interestingly, break room and bathroom traffic by nurses soared. Nurses left the floor to constantly pop in and out of the break room.
Permitting nurses to maintain contact with their family acknowledges their emotional needs and reduces anxiety
Breaking the Ban
Banning the use of cell phones has not resulted in elimination of cell phone use, as intended.
In a study by McBride and Levsseur (2014), the use of a personal mobile phone or other personal communication device while working (excluding meal times and breaks) was reported by 78.1% (644/825) of respondents.
The majority of communication was by- you guessed it!-text.
Conclusions: “This study found that hospital nurses frequently use their personal mobile phones or other personal communication devices for non-work-related activities at work. The primary activity reported was to send personal emails and text messages to family and friends.”
Times have Changed
We live in a mobile world. Employers need to be sensitive to employee’s personal needs and as such, acknowledge the importance of cell phones to the employee.
Banning the use of cell phones for professionals no longer makes sense (if it ever did).
In an age of constant connection, the benefits of smart phones complete with calculators and instant access to medical information via apps to working smart are undeniable.
As an example of embracing change and social media, some enlightened hospitals (mine included) post informative and entertaining videos on Facebook to create employee engagement. Staff meetings dates are posted, and Educators (myself included) use social media as another way to reach employees in a visual, fast paced world.
Evaluate nurses on performance
There will always be employees who abuse cell phone use privileges whether or not cell phone use is banned. Yes, and there will always be employees who abuse sick time, are late to work, and are guilty of all manner of unprofessional behaviors.
Evaluate individual nurse performance on whether or not they do their job. Are patients safely cared for, outcomes met, documentation complete?
For abusers, part of the disciplinary action plan could be that the employee surrenders their phone if they engage excessively.
But make the conversation about performance.
Finding a balanced approach is more difficult for management, but most worthwhile culture changes pay off in terms of employee satisfaction, and being a progressive employer.
It sends a message that the assumption is nurses are professional and will conduct themselves in a professional manner in a professional environment.
Safe Cell Phone Use
There should be fair and flexible guidelines. The Connecticut Nurses Foundation published the following guidelines :
1. Turn Your Cell Phone Ringer Off
If you have your cell phone at work, it should not ring. Set it on Vibrate or in Airplane Mode.
2. Use your cell phone only for Urgent Calls
If the call is important, use your cell phone away from the patient care area.
3. When Expecting an “Important” Call
If you are expecting an important call, and by “important,” we mean a call from a doctor or a call by somebody who is taking care of your kids, then give advance warning to those you will be interacting with that you may receive a call you will have to take. When you do take the call, however, excuse yourself and walk somewhere private. Otherwise, let your voicemail or text pick up the call and call that person back later.
4. Let Your Cell Phone Calls Go to Voice Mail
While you are at work if you are in doubt about whether an incoming call is important, let voice mail pick it up. It will take much less time to check your messages than it will to answer the call and then tell the caller you can’t talk. Tell your family to use the text option for non-emergent calls and then read them on your break or once in a non-patient area.
5. Find a Private Place to Make Cell Phone Calls
While it’s okay to use your cell phone at work for private calls, talk in a non-patient area, where your conversation can’t be overheard, even if what you’re discussing isn’t personal.
6. Do not use your cell phone during Med Pass
Place your cell phone on vibrate. Let your family know you will call them at break. Med Pass Interruptions are too dangerous. If personal use cannot be avoided, such as in a family emergency, use common sense and discretion.
7. Don’t talk on your Cell Phone in the Restroom … Ever
This rule should apply to using your cell phone at work or anywhere. You never know who’s in there; the person on the other end of the line will hear bathroom sounds, e.g., toilets flushing.
8. Don’t Bring Your Cell Phone to Meetings
Even if you have your cell phone set to vibrate, if you receive a call or text you will be tempted to see who it’s from. Wait until the meeting is concluded before you look. It is rude to look during the meeting.
9. Keep voice volume normal
Mind your volume while you are talking on a cell phone. Keep your voice at a normal tone when using a cell phone.
10. Privacy Issues
Remember HIPAA and the need to keep patient information private. Do not speak on the phone to a provider while other patients are listening to the conversation. Walk to a private area or ask for a moment of privacy if another patient or their family is at the nurse’s station.
In short, be mindful of those around you at all times when using a cell phone. Just as you wouldn’t want to hear somebody’s personal business as they talk to somebody standing right next to them, others will not want to hear the details of your personal life as you gab on the phone.
11. Interrupting Conversations
In short, don’t do it. If you are speaking to somebody when your phone rings, casually turn it off and finish the conversation. You can easily see who called you, and return the call later; when it will not be rude to the person you are speaking with. Obviously, if you are awaiting a very important call, it is alright to interrupt the conversation, but it is best to explain why you are doing so. If possible, let the person know ahead of time that the call may be coming in. Apologize when you are finished with the call. Then turn the phone off, so it will not ring again.
12. Cell Phone Use in the OR
The American College of Surgeons (ACS) has approved a statement on use of cell phones in the operating room(Bulletin of the American College of Surgeons, 93(9), September 2008). In the statement, the ACS discouraged the “undisciplined” use of cellular devices in the operating room.
The CNF further asked nurses to take a pledge:
SAFE CELL PHONE ETIQUETTE IN THE WORKPLACE
_____I have read the guidelines and will not use my cell phone for personal use while providing patient care
_____I will be aware of using safe cell phone etiquette among providers and patient
_____I will share this information with my colleagues
This pledge can be taken at CNF Safe Cell Phone Pledge
Nurse Beth supports the professional use of cell phones by nurses. Further, it would be helpful if hospitals had an app that allowed nurses to quickly access hospital policies, and finally, how about purchasing Epocrates for all?
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Until next time friend,
Come visit me at Ask Nurse Beth career column at allnurses.com for all kinds of entertaining and informative career questions and answers, and to submit your own question 🙂
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McBride DL, LeVasseur SA, Li D Non-Work-Related Use of Personal Mobile Phones by Hospital Registered Nurses JMIR mHealth uHealth 2015;3(1):e3 DOI: 10.2196/mhealth.4001
CNF Safe Cell Phone Etiquette. Retrieved July 2015.