The dangers of texting while driving recently received renewed attention thanks to a public service video produced by German film director Werner Herzog. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that driver distraction results in approximately 3,000 deaths per year, as well as an additional 400,000 injuries. Experts have estimated that the risk of a crash may increase by more than 20 times when texting, exceeding the risk associated with intoxication.
Texting while driving is just one example of a larger phenomenon of our age, often referred to as multitasking. The term was coined by IBM engineers in the 1960s to refer to the ability of a microprocessor to perform multiple tasks at once. Today the term is more often applied to human beings attempting to do more than one thing, such as simultaneously watching television and folding laundry, or answering emails while talking on the phone. Many health professionals pride themselves on their multitasking.
In fact, however, the term multitasking is a bit of a misnomer, even in the domain of computing. At least where one microprocessor is concerned, a computer does not so much multitask as it switches back and forth between tasks at such a high rate of speed that it appears to be doing multiple things at once. Only more recently, with the advent of multicore processing, has it become possible for computers genuinely to multitask.
The same thing applies to human beings. Health professionals and others who think they are multitasking are typically switching back and forth between different tasks over short periods of time. And in most cases, multitaskers are not able to perform any of the activities in which they are engaged as well as they could if they concentrated on them one at a time. It takes time and effort to re-focus on each task at hand, and this tends to degrade the effectiveness and efficiency of each.
To be sure, multitasking is not impossible. In one sense, simply remaining alive requires us to multitask all the time. Our hearts are continuously pumping, lungs exchanging gases, kidneys filtering the blood, immune system fighting infections, and all the while we are also digesting our last meal. Add to this the ceaseless multitasking of the brain, which is monitoring the environment and maintaining our posture while simultaneously walking and chewing gum, and the complexity multiples.
A new service has partnered with a Los Angeles school district – the second largest in the country – to not only deliver STD results by text message, but also to promote the idea children share their “status” as easily as they share the highlight of their day on Facebook. But when it comes to children having sex, it’s never quite that simple now is it?
Qpid.me is the brainchild of Ramin Bastani and operates from the following premise: “We believe that sharing is a good thing and that it can lead to better sexual health decisions, more (safe) sex and fewer STDs.” Bastani went on to tell CNN in an interview: “If it’s cool for a beauty queen to share her STD status [Qpid.me’s celebrity sponsor is Tamie Farrell, Miss California 2009], then maybe kids will start to think it’s cool to share their own results. We want to normalize the idea of sharing your status.”
The process is fairly straightforward. Qpid.me requests patient test results from health clinics (with patient permission, of course) then transmits those results via text, email, and provides access to their online site. The concept of delivering STD results electronically is not necessarily new, or controversial. The danger lies in convincing children there are no concerns about sharing such private information among peers who may not respect their privacy, or, worse may shame them for contracting curable diseases.
The Joint Commission has issued a statement indicating that health care professionals should not text patient orders. It reads:
“It is not acceptable for physicians or licensed independent practitioners to text orders for patients to the hospital or other healthcare setting. This method provides no ability to verify the identity of the person sending the text and there is no way to keep the original message as validation of what is entered into the medical record.”
I was alerted to this statement by an iHealthBeat article on the topic, which quotes a couple of experts who note that texting has security, privacy and reliability problems that make it unsuitable for critical issues.
I understand the downsides but I’d be interested to learn more about what’s driving the use of texting for orders — if there is in fact such a trend. My guess is that younger physicians in particular are used to texting in their personal lives, finding it convenient, immediate, reliable, concise and likely to be read, acknowledged and acted on quickly. Add to that the fact that texting can easily be done from personal mobile devices and the appeal becomes pretty clear.