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Cell Phone Use at Work: Is It Appropriate?

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In this day in age, cell phones are used everywhere, including while we are working at our nursing jobs. Cell phones can be handy or extremely harmful to your work performance. There are thoughts to consider before determining it's ok to get on your cell and tips to use to help avoid using the phone at the wrong time.

Specializes in Nurse Writer, Experienced RN in PACU & ICU. Has 18 years experience.

When is it OK to use my phone at work?

Cell Phone Use at Work:  Is It Appropriate?

Cell phones have changed the way we function on a day-to-day basis, affecting everything we do. We have constant access to any information or person we need (or think we need). So, what about using personal cell phones by nurses at work? They can be helpful, or they can cause problems. Depending on how you use your phone can determine its appropriateness.  

Most hospitals, care facilities, and clinics have policies in place that state what is allowed in certain locations such as at the nurse’s station or at the patient’s bedside. I’m sure we can agree, personal phone use is inappropriate at the bedside. Proper channels should be used through the facility when shared information contains patient details (like notifying a doctor about a blood sugar result). Using the cell at the nurse’s station has more of a grey area. 

I took a poll on a social media platform for nurses asking if the nurse's station is a part of the patient care area (either opinion or work policy). Eighty-nine out of 100 nurses said “No,” it is not. Another poll I hosted reported that the vast majority of nursing jobs allow personal phones at the nurse’s station (94/117 votes). So, if the nurse’s station is acceptable for personal cell use, what could this mean for patients? 

Why is it OK? 

We all have lives.

Many of us are busy with kids, sports, daily errands, appointments, house chores, etc. Having our phone near is quite handy to organize our schedule at any moment. Everyone can reach you, thank goodness. 

Google and other apps are useful resources.

How often do we as nurses look up unfamiliar medications or medical conditions? The cell phone makes learning about a patient’s condition a snap. Keep in mind, using the internet for how-tos on care procedures (such as a dressing change) is a no-no as this should be learned in school, in-house training or from an experienced colleague. Please refer to your facility’s policies and educational resources. 

Communication is crucial in our profession. 

A cell phone is super handy to message our coworkers quickly to save time and increase work efficiency. For example, a circulating RN could message Preop to have the next patient ready to go with a few quick taps. Make sure these tactics are cleared by your supervisor before implementing them. 

Why is it not OK? 

Cell phones use can be a hazardous distraction. 

When you are on your phone for personal reasons, you are not providing any patient care. In fact, you are mentally not even at work. This lack of attention will lead to harmful occurrences such as errors, injuries and neglect. Poor time management and poor response time can also occur as you are unaware of your surroundings. If you’re shopping for new work shoes online, you might forget that the nurse aid told you she put your patient on the commode and went to lunch 20 minutes ago. “Oh, is that my patient’s call light?” 

Risk of infection.

Simply put, our phones are covered in bacteria like a petri dish. At least we are rockstars at handwashing but how many of us wipe down our personal phones? 

Risk of security breaching. 

While texting with other nurses, doctors, aids, etc., we must be sure to avoid using any patient identification information and remain respectful. It is vital we actively protect our patient’s privacy. Social media platforms showcase medical professionals taking pics and videos at the workplace all the time, but mistakes can easily be made (like a computer screen photo bomb with patient information all over it). The more we do it, the more chances a breach will occur. 

Old fashion unprofessionalism. 

A family member walks up to the station looking for her father’s nurse and finds the nurse on her cell phone laughing at a funny cat meme. Her father is unresponsive on a ventilator, and she has been crying at his side for the last hour. Even though the nurse was looking at something not related to work for just a couple of minutes, that daughter is now upset and feels her father is not being cared for adequately. This may be untrue, but the cell phone gives the appearance of poor nursing care and a lack of professionalism. 

So is it OK or not? 

Whether to use your phone at any given time at work boils down to asking yourself, “Is it safe? Is it smart? Is it professional?” Cell phones are a part of our daily lives, and our institutions understand this fact. We as professionals should know when to put the phone down or just put it away. Here are some tips on ways to use the phone appropriately: 

  1. Take a break! Officially step away for a moment. This is a perfect time to check on emails, messages, or have a quick brain break by scrolling through social media.  
  2. Don’t be in sight of family/patients. Sitting at the front desk, you are the first face people will see. Don’t be on your phone playing a game (break or not). 
  3. Vow to only use the phone for emergencies or for job-related reasons, such as looking up a new med on the market.  
  4. Keep it in your work locker or bag. Don’t leave it sitting out to use at free will. That’s just asking for misuse. 

Above all, the patients come first.

If the use of the phone is not improving the patient’s care in any way, then the use is inappropriate. We nurses deserve breaks and time to ourselves. But when we’re working, we’re working. When in doubt, put the phone away. 


References

The Pros and Cons of Smartphone Use by Nurses on Duty

Are Cell Phones Helping or Harming Your Patients?

Sarah is a full-time recovery nurse at an outpatient surgery center and worked in a neuro ICU before that. Sarah is also a nurse writer in content marketing for healthcare during her free time. She has 2 lovely daughters who are still in grade school and enjoys reading and gardening.

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11 Comment(s)

Squidpdx, CNA, LPN

Specializes in Ambulatory Care, Community Health, HIV. Has 5 years experience.

Good article. Personally, I hate using my cell phone at work. I resent that I am basically forced to in order to communicate with management/other staff quickly, and yet my employer does not contribute to the bill or supply the phone.

guineapignurse, BSN, RN

Specializes in Med surg, psych. Has 4 years experience.

I keep my personal cellphone on me while at work because I have asthma and I need to for my peak flow meter to record readings and to remember my asthma action plan.. That being said I will go to the break room to use it. Other than that I only use it on my lunch break. I don’t use it to look up meds fir work because I have a computer I can access and I think if you don’t have computer access or an updated drug guide book then you should talk to your manager about that since I believe personal cellphones shoubr used for work activities.

SarahKixRN, BSN, RN

Specializes in Nurse Writer, Experienced RN in PACU & ICU. Has 18 years experience.

Monitoring your health is certainly a great reason to keep your phone on you while working.  Our health is just as important as our patients!!  

23 hours ago, guineapignurse said: I don’t use it to look up meds fir work because I have a computer I can access and I think if you don’t have computer access or an updated drug guide book then you should talk to your manager about that since I believe personal cellphones shoubr used for work activities.

I find it easier and quicker to use my cell phone to look up drugs or medical conditions than my work computer. The work computers are slow and wants to use Bing as the search engine which is not my go-to. Sometimes the work computer blocks me from accessing websites. I believe we have PubMed or whatever but that takes forever to load so I don’t even bother. 
 

Good article overall! I agree with all the points made. 

Journey_On, BSN, RN

Specializes in Occupational Health and Mother Baby. Has 12 years experience.

Great points made. I personally don't like using my phone at work unless I have just washed my hands. The risk of infection point is huge for me. I PhoneSoap my phone when I get home, daily.

If I need something like the bili tool, then I just use my work computer. I usually just look at my phone on lunch breaks. Or if I need to respond to something urgently, I'll go in the break room or locker room.

Tweety, BSN, RN

Specializes in Med-Surg, Trauma, Ortho, Neuro, Cardiac. Has 29 years experience.

I of course am an old battle axe that remember the days when mom's did fine without cell phones and their kids would just call the nurse's station.  

Recently, with the advent of smart phones, I keep my phone with me because I use the timer to remind me things like "It's time to go back and unclamp that NGT you clamped for a medication", etc.   I also use Google all the time to look up stuff.

That said I do sometimes find myself distracted with a text from a friend or social media and but I'm usually pretty good.  The other day I was at the nurse's station texting a doctor and someone came up and I did feel the need to mention to the patient that I was texting a doctor and that it was work related so I wouldn't look bad.

I do have a coworker or two that is always seems to be looking at their phone even when they are charting or in a patient's room.  Not my business or issue to resolve.  Some people truly are addicted to their phones.

Long ago they had a cell phone ban, meaning we weren't supposed to have our cell phones with us, but in our lockers but the mass disobedience was such that they gave up.

Edited by Tweety

T-Bird78

Has 6 years experience.

My nursing school instructors forbid phones at our clinical sites so that’s been ingrained in me from my nursing school days. One of my employers made us keep our phones in our lockers, no exceptions, and family could call the clinic if they needed to reach us.  Another employer let us keep it close but we couldn’t use it on the clock; I was in the break room and had a quick personal call and got reprimanded for not clocking out first. Where I’m at now, it’s close but I try not to use it, but I do text the providers if the hospital calls with a consult (So-and-so from the hospital called, room 302 needs consult for trach eval, nurse Bobbie at 404-555-1212 sort of message) and I’ll text our manager because she goes between 3 locations and works from home so it’s easier to find her that way than trying to call each office and ask if she’s there or not. If a personal call comes through, I don’t answer unless I can step away from the nurse’s station. 

HarleyvQuinn, MSN, RN, NP

Specializes in Primary Care, Military. Has 14 years experience.

This can also vary by role. As an NP, I have various applications on my phone that actually help me throughout a clinic day, some of them are paid for. Some of them were actually recommended by professors in my program or preceptors during clinical. These include 5-minute clinical consult, Epocrates, Visual Dx, and the USPSTF app for quick referencing conditions, medications, treatments, and guidelines. If I'm utilizing one of these, I include the patient in what I'm doing by notifying them that I'm just looking up a piece of information. New medications are added, or maybe I want to look more carefully at different drugs in a drug class before making a decision on switching treatment when a patient isn't responding the way we want to a treatment regimen or needs an alternative. Depending on the employer, there are also some applications that are available on the workstation computers, too. 

It's personal usage that interferes with the workday that needs to be kept to a minimum or reserved for emergent situations. Save that for your breaks and focus on patient care. There are many facilities these days that are moving towards providing phones or other methods of communication to their nursing staff for use during the shift, whether that's a hospital cell phone or Vocera. We utilized hospital cell phones at my last RN job in inpatient psych that allowed us to text message the psychiatrists and hospitalists working with our patients during the day, making it easier to update them on problems or get orders for anything that came up. Vocera was always super fun when someone tried to contact you while you were in the bathroom. 😨

guineapignurse, BSN, RN

Specializes in Med surg, psych. Has 4 years experience.

17 minutes ago, HarleyvQuinn said:

This can also vary by role. As an NP, I have various applications on my phone that actually help me throughout a clinic day, some of them are paid for. Some of them were actually recommended by professors in my program or preceptors during clinical. These include 5-minute clinical consult, Epocrates, Visual Dx, and the USPSTF app for quick referencing conditions, medications, treatments, and guidelines. If I'm utilizing one of these, I include the patient in what I'm doing by notifying them that I'm just looking up a piece of information. New medications are added, or maybe I want to look more carefully at different drugs in a drug class before making a decision on switching treatment when a patient isn't responding the way we want to a treatment regimen or needs an alternative. Depending on the employer, there are also some applications that are available on the workstation computers, too. 

It's personal usage that interferes with the workday that needs to be kept to a minimum or reserved for emergent situations. Save that for your breaks and focus on patient care. There are many facilities these days that are moving towards providing phones or other methods of communication to their nursing staff for use during the shift, whether that's a hospital cell phone or Vocera. We utilized hospital cell phones at my last RN job in inpatient psych that allowed us to text message the psychiatrists and hospitalists working with our patients during the day, making it easier to update them on problems or get orders for anything that came up. Vocera was always super fun when someone tried to contact you while you were in the bathroom. 😨

My hospital went to having cell phones for us to use. We can’t secure text from them but we will get a call saying that we got a reply on our desktop based secure messaging 

traumaRUs, MSN, APRN, CNS

Specializes in Nephrology, Cardiology, ER, ICU. Has 29 years experience.

As an APRN, I am on call for multiple places during the day not to mention texting from other staff members, physicians, etc. Our practice utilizes Teams as it can be used securely. With the pandemic, we use Doximety for secure telethealth visits, to receive faxes, etc.. We also use PerfectServe for secure communication between our practice staff members. 

DavidFR, BSN, MSN, RN

Specializes in Oncology, ID, Hepatology, Occy Health. Has 35 years experience.

My cellphone is in my pocket at work and may come out because it's my lamp (I'm a night nurse) and my stopwatch for counting respiratory rates (I work in oncology, many patients on Morphine/Oxycodone/Fentanyl pumps). 

My phone is always on silence at work and it is never taken out for a personal reason. I may look at messages when I'm in the break room having a coffee, but never in a clinical area.

Pre-cell phones you were not allowed to make or receive personal phone calls at work unless it was a dire emergency. I don't see why that should have changed because the phone's now in your pocket.