I read this piece on perception of professionalism around use of mobile tablets in medicine this morning, and it struck a chord with me. I am the first to admit that I have had both formal and informal discussions with medical students and residents about looking on smart phones or tablet in the middle of rounds. I have discussed it in a variety of terms likely related to “this is not professional, and it appears to me as if you are disinterested.” The traditional thinking is that the learner is bored and/or distracted, and either surfing the internet, checking email, playing a video game or doing some other activity besides listening intently on rounds.
However, this survey article on the use of mobile computing by trainees is quite intriguing. 40% of academic physicians and trainees said they owned a mobile tablet, and 50% of those, or 20% total, use them for clinical medicine at the point of care. That is a lot, and I bet the number is growing daily. Many residency programs have begun purchasing mobile tablets for their trainees specifically for the use in the clinical arena, either for the purposes of medical education, or direct patient care activities. The University of Chicago Department of Medicine residency program even published outcomes on the impact of providing trainees with tablets.
So what should we do about the professionalism issue? One thing I would suggest is calling out the “elephant in the room”. Trainees could actually state up front to their faculty instructors that they use their tablets to look up information. Second, faculty could embrace it, and have, for example, “tablet breaks”, where in the middle of rounds, for 5-10 minutes, everyone could stop, take a break, and look at their tablets for whatever they wanted (be it looking up information, checking email, or whatever they feel is important for themselves personally). [credit for this idea goes to my Executive Associate Dean for Education, Dr. Maryellen Gusic, who suggested it to me]. Third, faculty can lead by example. Specifically, they could show trainees how to use tablets and collect and disseminate information from the use of mobile tablets at the point of care, without appearing completely engrossed in the tablet itself (provided they know how to do so themselves). Literally, this would be done as a teaching point just like any other golden nugget of teaching. We highlighted this example as a workshop at the APDIM Spring conference in April of 2012.
One example from my own personal learning is what I do every week. When in attendance, I tweet Pediatrics Grand Rounds every Wednesday at 8 am EST, at the hashtag #IUPedsGrRounds. I wonder what I look like to others in the room as I am typing furiously on the tablet keyboard to keep up with the speaker. I can honestly say that I am totally listening to the speaker, trying to learn as much as possible, and also trying to get the information out there onto Twitter. I could probably argue that I am more engaged in learning from the one-hour session than others in the room—but I see how it could appear to others that I am distracted, and doing something less than "scholarly-appearing".
Have you seen instances where trainees appear to have their faces buried in their tablets or smartphones, and how have you handled it? What can we say to trainees to help them avoid the appearance of being unprofessional, especially when they may be doing the exact opposite: helping the team find information to optimize patient care?
As a way of highlighting the importance of this and other ways to integrate mobile tablets into the medical education arena, we are excited to host the inaugural Mobile Computing in Medical Education conference on Friday May 31, 2013, on the campus of the Indiana University School of Medicine. Topics like this would be definitely welcome. The call for proposals is still open—please submit if you are interested in attending, and disseminating your work to others!