Legacy Salmon Creek nurses check their cellphones

Effort puts focus on patient care, improves satisfaction scores

By Marissa Harshman, Columbian Health Reporter



Checking Facebook during downtime. Texting while taking a break at the nurses station. Responding to emails and checking work schedules between patients.

Nurses at Legacy Salmon Creek Medical Center have a message for their colleagues who are tied to their personal cellphones: Check your cell-f.

Nurses in the hospital’s surgical specialities unit and family birth center began to notice their colleagues spending more and more time on personal devices in highly visible areas. Troubled by the appearance of distracted nurses — and patient satisfaction scores hitting an all-time low — the nurses launched a movement to remove the personal devices from patient care areas.

“As personal cellphones infect our culture right now, we decided we didn’t need to follow that,” said Julie Gillespie, nurse manager for the surgical specialties unit.

Tunnel vision

The complaints about cellphone use didn’t come from leadership but from nurses working the unit. They were troubled by colleagues using cellphones in patient care settings, particularly the nurses stations, said Erin Robbins, a charge nurse for the surgical specialties unit. (There were not complaints about nurses using cellphones while in patient rooms.)

The cellphone use resulted in lower awareness of their surroundings, slower responsiveness to patient call lights and less interaction with colleagues, the nurses said.

“People just weren’t as fully present because they were on their phones,” Gillespie said.

“Like distracted driving, you think you’re aware, but you’re more tunnel vision than you think,” she added.

The practice also just looked bad, Robbins said.

Nurses stations are located in the open middle area of each unit, surrounded by patient rooms. The problem, Robbins said, is even if nurses were on a break, they were in a highly visible area. To patients, visitors and others passing through the unit, it appeared as though nurses were playing on cellphones while on the job. The same went for physicians and other technicians in the unit who were using cellphones, Robbins said.

“We thought it was best they put them away,” she said.

From there, the “Check your cell-f” initiative was born.

The initiative is simple: While in the surgical specialties unit and family birth center, personal cellphone use is not allowed in patient care areas. Nurses may carry their personal cellphones in their pockets, but phones shouldn’t be out unless the nurses are in designated break rooms or other nonpatient care areas, Robbins said.

The initiative is a requirement for the nurses. The unit leaders also ask physicians and others working in the unit to put their phones away, Gillespie said.

Positive response

After the policy rolled out, patient satisfaction scores for nurse communication started to climb.

Scores in the two sections of the surgical speciality unit increased from a baseline of about 85 percent and 81 percent to 87 percent and 90 percent, respectively, six months after the policy was implemented. In the family birth unit, satisfaction scores went from a baseline of 85 percent to 94 percent six months after implementation, according to hospital data.

“It was pretty telling,” said Meredith Pena, assistant nurses manager for the family birth center.

Nurses also took notice of less-tangible outcomes. Nurses were quicker to notice illuminated patient call lights and to offer help to busy coworkers. Nurses also felt like communication and camaraderie increased within the unit.

“I know my coworkers so much better now,” said Lindsey Gudge, a charge nurse for the surgical specialties unit.

In addition, the policy has encouraged nurses to take actual breaks, said Allison Carlson, assistant nurse manager for the surgical specialties unit. Rather than sit at the nurses station for 15 minutes, they walk away and take a breather, she said.

Nurses in other units at Legacy Salmon Creek have taken notice of the initiative, as well. The policy is in the process of being implemented in all patient care areas of the hospital — a move applauded by the group who started the movement.

“We need to be present and aware,” Gillespie said.

“It can wait,” she added. “Our patients and customer service can’t.”