Foreign cases show phone use cited
Two international cases show how phone use during surgery can be cited as a contributing cause to alleged malpractice. In a case from Israel, a woman underwent hand surgery in Tel Aviv's Sheba Medical Center and then filed a lawsuit claiming malpractice by her surgeon.1
The woman remained awake during the procedure and, according to the lawsuit, the surgeon's cell phone rang. He instructed a nurse to answer but eventually took the phone and spoke. According to the complaint, immediately after ending the conversation, the surgeon stated that he had mistakenly cut a nerve. The patient claimed that the doctor then told a nurse, "You see, one shouldn't speak on a phone during surgery." The disposition of the malpractice claim is unknown.
In 2000, the Hong Kong Medical Council banned surgeons from using cell phones while operating.2 The move followed a week of controversy after the council ruled that Tung Hiu-ming, MD, who answered his mobile phone during surgery, had not acted unprofessionally. The council ruled in favor of Tung despite records showing that he was on the phone for 14 minutes. He claimed he was only on the phone long enough to speak one sentence and that the other party, by accident, had not hung up.
The patient, however, said he had heard his doctor discussing the purchase of a new car while he was under a local anesthetic to have a polyp removed from his intestines. The patient required a second surgery within hours to repair a punctured colon wall.