Doctors need protected time away from the pager

When nurses sign out during the end of shift, it’s done so in a quiet setting.

Contrast that to medical residents — at least when I was a resident 8 years ago — where pager interruptions during sign out were the norm.

PookieMD compares the situation to the “sterile cockpit” that airline pilots enjoy: “Pilots have the sterile cockpit–a situation in which, if the plane is below 10,000 feet, only conversation directly relevant to flying is allowed. The rule was developed because take offs and landings are the most likely time a crash will occur, and take offs and landings occur below 10,000 feet. Simple enough, and it saves lives.”

Physicians enjoy no such luxury. Patient discussions with other doctors often take place in distracted settings, under the threat of a pager going off at any time.

Changing this, PookieMD argues, requires a cultural shift. As mentioned earlier, when nurses sign out, it’s sacred time. Doctors need something similar. Studies show that medical errors can arise during the patient hand-off to another physician. Signing out patients in an undisturbed setting may minimize the risk of poor communication, and subsequently, potential mistakes.

“Page early and often needs to be replaced with ‘page urgently when appropriate,'” writes PookieMD.

Let’s see if hospital administrators have the courage to make that happen.