A Plan for Cell Phones in the OR

Publish Date: October 9, 2019

One nurse leader’s hope to encourage life balance has led to a new phone policy allowing OR staff to have personal phones in the OR. Here’s how she’s managing the balance for safe care.

A personal phone is often a nurse’s lifeline to school or daycare or other important updates; however, there is a history of not allowing cell phones in the OR, shares Mary Barkhymer, MSN, RN, vice president of patient care services/CNO at University of Pittsburgh Medical Center St. Margaret Hospital in Pittsburgh, PA.

“I found my OR staff sneaking phones in the OR with them when they were waiting for an important message or they would race to their locker between cases to check their phones, meanwhile, surgeons are allowed to have phones in the OR—I knew I needed to make a change to better support life balance for my staff,” she says.

Barkhymer introduced the possibility of allowing personal cell phone use with her staff in early 2018 to gather feedback. “The most common concern was that physicians, residents and even vendors in the OR are allowed to have their personal cell phones with them, and also, that the longstanding concern of cell phones interfering with OR monitoring equipment is no longer relevant with today’s technology.”

Instilling Professional Moderation with Phone Use

Before allowing her OR staff to have personal phones in the OR, Barkhymer established a plan with rules and education to set professional moderation boundaries.

She reviewed the plan with perioperative leaders to secure buy-in. Once this was achieved, she launched the plan during an all staff meeting. The system’s policy on social media was also reiterated.

Here are Barkhymer’s established rules for personal cell phone use throughout care areas in the perioperative setting:

  • Cell phone use has to be timed to not interfere with patient care.
  • Cell phones cannot be used in front of patients or patient families.
  • Cell phone use can only be allowed for emergencies to respond to or send an urgent message.
  • By openly using a personal cell phone in the workplace setting, personal phones are now discoverable and can be implicated if a patient safety event occurs tied to the phone use.

Making It Work

Eighteen months later, Barkhymer says there have been no issues with misuse or conflict with patient care when staff members use their personal cell phone and it has improved staff satisfaction.

“They appreciated this change because they were doing it anyway at the risk of getting in trouble and now they have the freedom to be connected to their personal life when needed and when appropriate,” Barkhymer notes. “Staff also monitor their peer’s phone use to ensure no abuses are happening that would risk the privilege for everyone.”

One other benefit has been faster and more efficient turnover time because OR staff aren’t running to their locker to check their phone between cases.

Shifting to Better Life Balance

Allowing personal cell phone use is just one way Barkhymer is seeking out ways to support her staff in balancing work and life, especially for millennials.

“Too often we hold on to old ways of doing things and are resistant to change when things really can work a different way,” she says.

Barkhymer suggests other perioperative teams looking to allow personal cell phone use should consult evidence-based practice standards for safe cell phone use in perioperative care settings.

For example, AORN’s Position Statement on Managing Distractions and Noise During Perioperative Patient Care addresses appropriate use of cell phones in the OR, noting that undisciplined use of cell phones in the OR and the ring tones and alarms of personal electronic devices can contribute to distraction.


Free Resources for Members

Guideline Essentials: Get quick tips and implementation steps on minimizing noise and distraction in the OR from cell phone use.