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Joe Casper, MBA, COE

Then a pharmacy technician dis-creetly hides his smartphone in the counter drawer, checking Facebook, sending text messages, and tweeting between patients. Similarly, the cashier at the supermarket keeps her phone behind the counter, using a lull in customer volume to send “selfies” to her friends, while the business pro- fessional, waiting for his next client to arrive, calls to talk to his friend about last night’s football game. No harm, no foul, right? After all, there wasn’t a patient requesting a prescription, a grocery shopper loading items on the conveyer belt, nor a client waiting to begin to consult. Wrong! Businesses are negatively influenced by excessive cellphone use.


Like pharmacies, supermarkets, and other businesses, ophthalmic practices are among those fighting for full en- gagement of employees and losing this battle to smartphones and social media. It is the norm for employees always to have their phones, fearing they will miss an important text message or the latest social media drama. Some practices target this issue by having employees lock up their cellphones during the day, while others emphasize their policy of no cellphone usage during work hours. Unfortunately, it seems that neither of these approaches stands the test of time.


While most cellphone policies—in- cluding those previously described—are usually ineffective in long-term mitigation of the cellphone dilemma, there is still hope. A course of action that has been proven to win the battle against cellphones and withstand the test of time is outlined in the following steps


  • Initiate purposeful discussion. This intervention begins with the lead- ership team initiating a discussion with the entire staff about why the practice is in the eyecare business. Following this dialogue should be a discussion regarding the consequences of not having full engagement when interact- ing with patients. Some consequences might include delays in taking patients back, lack of a great customer service experience, reduced productivity, and an increased number of mistakes due to extended distraction. The point of this exercise is to have employees buy into a greater purpose for what they are doing. A hand slap will not provide the required behavioral change that sticks; however, if the staff recognizes that the work they perform is more important than anything supplied by their cell- phones, their attention will shift from their cellphones to their work.


  • Obtain provider buy-in. The most important players in all cell- phone interventions are the physicians. If you do not have all members of the leadership team supporting this by showing employees that they can add value to their practice and professional life with decreased cellphone usage, the practice actually is providing staff with a new form of potential gratification. The outcome is lasting adherence to a successful cellphone policy and increased engagement and productivity. Initiative, staff members will not take these demands seriously. In fact, the demise of most policies occurs when staff members regress after continuously seeing physicians and other members of the practice’s leadership team using their own smartphones during the work day. Practices would benefit if team leaders became more committed to the “here and now”—both with patients and colleagues. To encourage this, remind team leaders that the human interaction is the most special thing a practice can offer for connecting with patients and increasing referral rates.

  • Extend mechanisms for staff  to be reached during emergencies and receive their online fix. One ophthalmologist said his staff mem- bers insist they need to be available to receive calls from their aging parents or sick children. What happened before smartphones? Individuals called the office and asked to speak with the employee. This doesn’t happen anymore because most people list their cellphone numbers as their emergency contact numbers. The leadership team should encourage staff members to use the main office number as an emergency number. This will ensure that staff members can be reached during an emergency, without needing to carry their cellphones and constantly check them throughout the day. Staff should also be able to have their cellphones during breaks. This will prevent “cheating,” as the staff can look forward to their break to check their cellphones for important messages.



The psychology behind needing to check the phone relates to the desire for gratification. Individuals expect some- thing magical to happen when they check their phone; however, most mes- sages are just space fillers that that do not add value. By showing employees that they can add value to their practice and professional life with decreased cellphone usage, the practice actually is providing staff with a new form of potential gratification. The outcome is lasting adherence to a successful cell- phone policy and increased engagement and productivity.


Many practices have signs that read “No Cellphone Usage.” Unfortunately, patients typically disregard these signs, and physi- cians and technicians often have to interrupt patients using cell- phones in the waiting room or during an exam. Because time and energy is money, practices should seek to decrease patient cellphone usage in order to provide the best care available and increase efficiency.

Eliminating the distraction of a cellphone makes this possible, simply because it increases patient engagement. Some practices have found it helpful to politely ask patients to turn off phones once in the exam room.

For example: “Mrs. Smith, if you have a cell phone, could you please turn it off during the exam?” Staff members are trained to be understanding if the response is “I can’t because my child … etc.” Despite this, the patient still gets the message and usually does not respond to other personal calls or texts s/he receives during the visit.

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