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Personal Electronic Devices in the Exam Room: Tips to Stop the Distraction

You know the story, you are sitting with a patient in the exam room and a phone rings. There is an awkward silence as the patient grabs their phone and proceeds to talk on it as if you are not there. In an age of instant social media access it can be a challenge to get patients to refrain from device use in the clinic. There are some strategies that can help you diplomatically deal with patients who use devices in the clinic while also decreasing the likelihood of future use.

Personal Electronic Devices in the Exam Room: Tips to Stop the Distraction

Post Your Policy

A critical first step to take when trying to eliminate device use in the clinic involves clearly stating your device use policy. It is important to delineate your policy and post it throughout the clinic for all to see. All new patients should be informed of your policies and signs should be posted at clinic entrances and in all of the exam rooms to increase visibility.

Practice What Your Preach

Clinicians are leaders in a clinic and as such they set the example for those around them. Employees and patients alike notice your cellphone use and tend to follow your example. To ensure a device-free clinic start by setting the example and either leave your phone in your desk or ensure that the ringer is off. If you can't ignore your phone due to consults, etc. consider using a smartwatch so that you can screen any calls or alerts by simply glancing at your arm and not dragging out your phone.

Discuss the Negative Effects of Device Use

If you encounter a patient that is using a device while in the clinic, gently remind them that everyone's time is precious and that their device use causes disruption. Begin by emphasizing that device use can cause a backlog in your schedule and distracts both of you from addressing the important matters that brought them to the clinic. Explain that effective schedule management reduces waiting times for both them and other patients when they visit your clinic.

Repeat Offenders

Individuals that continue to ignore device use policies after you have discussed it can be especially challenging. This population may require that you establish clear consequences associated with the next device related infraction. While refusing care all together is not an option, deferring their visit until they cease device use can be quite effective. For example, a patient uses their device at the next office visit, you immediately inform them that you will not return to the room until they stop their device use. After exiting the room, proceed with the next patient on your schedule and only return to their room once their device use has stopped. These simple steps can quickly and effectively convey your thoughts regarding their device use.


Ozdalga E, Ozdalga A, Ahuja N. The Smartphone in Medicine: A Review of Current and Potential Use Among Physicians and Students. Eysenbach G, ed. Journal of Medical Internet Research. 2012;14(5):e128. doi:10.2196/jmir.1994.

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