• Article
  • September 26, 2018

When Mobile Devices Work Against Health Care Providers

To help you provide the best care to your patients, practice self-care while using electronics to avoid painful or nagging effects.

It's hard to imagine life without mobile devices like smartphones and tablets. You use them to stay connected, monitor patients, organize your life and schedule meetings and tasks. According to a 2017 Deloitte survey, mobile phone users in the U.S. check their devices 47 times a day on average. And those who spend a lot of time on their smartphones run the risk of facing physical consequences. Using smartphones can take a toll on your hands and several areas of your body: the dreaded "texting thumb" to the "smartphone pinky."

Larger devices, such as iPads, can cause a repetitive strain injury, and many users report their hands ache when they spend too much time swiping. The weight and size of devices combined with constant use are causing severe and painful hand deformations and damage.

"Health care providers have to be able to work around technology," says Michael J. García, M.D., an orthopaedic surgeon at Florida Orthopaedic Institute. "Take advantage of talk-to-text features instead of typing all the time. Buy an eye protector screen for your smartphone. Focus on your posture when working with patients in their rooms. Small things go a long way in self-care." Here are other areas mobile device use can take a toll:

Posture

Text neck occurs when you repetitively strain your neck by hunching over a smartphone. Garcia says the whole upper back suffers when you do this, not just the neck and shoulders. If this doesn't seem dangerous, consider how much time per day you spend using devices in this position. For an average person, that's anywhere between two to four hours a day, but it adds up to 700 to 1,400 hours per year. That's a lot of unnecessary strain on your neck and spine, which puts you at risk of needing spine care, even at a young age.

Digital eyestrain

Staring at digital screens tires the eyes, which can have painful consequences. One of the most serious ones is a headache. You may also experience blurred vision or burning and itching eyes. To avoid this, take regular breaks from looking at a screen. Experts recommend looking away from a screen every 20 to 30 minutes and focusing on objects in the distance for 20 to 30 seconds. 

Elbow problems

If you use your smartphone too much, you're at risk for Cubital tunnel syndrome. Also known as cellphone elbow, Cubital tunnel syndrome can cause pain, tingling or numbness running up the outside edge of your arm, excluding the wrist. It happens because of the constant elbow flexing that occurs with smartphone use. Frequent selfie-takers can often experience elbow pain since raising your arm and taking a lot of pictures can cause the overuse of tissues around your elbow joint.

Hand strain

Mobile devices are great for many reasons, but limiting their use can prevent unnaturally bent fingers and joint pain. To avoid these painful consequences, keep your smartphone at eye level instead of looking down on it, and try to change up the ways of handling it every once in a while. "When you work in health care, it is always a priority to provide the best service to keep patients healthy," Garcia says. "We are only able to provide excellent care if we take care of ourselves too."

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