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Mobile Phones and Society — How Being Constantly Connected Impacts Our Lives

by South University
May 10, 2013

Mobile phones have become a staple of our society, with everyone from elementary school kids to senior citizens owning at least one. Although mobile apps and texting have made our lives easier, some question the impact they’ve had on the relationships we have with one another. 

After losing part of her vision three years ago, Dr. Lisabeth Saunders Medlock, PhD, CLC, owner of Life by Design Coaching, can no longer see her cell phone. She replaced her Blackberry with a flip phone that reads out loud to her.

“I have a mobile phone that is a basic flip phone where it talks aloud to tell me who is calling and reads all the screens and text aloud,” she says. “I really love the fact I am not always looking at a phone. I can interact and socialize and truly have to be in each moment because I cannot distract or amuse myself with my phone.

“It is also freeing to not really have to respond to emails or even text messages when I choose to not be available. What it forces me and others to do is pick up the phone and talk. Having those dialogues has deepened friendships and allowed me to get to know people better.”

“And if I really needed to use GPS or look up a number, I am usually with a person who can do that for me,” she continues. “I am glad I cannot use a smartphone because it would waste time and energy and probably make me less smart.”

Addicted to Mobile Phones

Todd Starkweather, General Studies program director at South University, Richmond believes a lot of people are at least somewhat addicted to their cell phone.

“I see it frequently in my classes,” he says. “I make certain that students using their phones don’t disturb the learning of others, but do not make an active effort to police an individual who may not be paying attention.”

Starkweather says it’s up to the student whether or not they choose to spend class time listening and learning, or wasting their time on the phone.

As for the impact mobile phones have made on his own personal life, Starkweather says it’s helped him to stay more connected to family and friends than he was in the past.

I never take my phone into my classroom when I teach. Somehow I’m able to get through that hour and 40 minutes without my phone.

“I suppose I’m in much more constant contact with individuals, getting frequent updates,” he says.

He remembers the days before mobile phones when it wouldn’t seem like a long time to go eight hours not hearing from close friends or family members. 

For example, before everyone had mobile phones, he says if a friend went on vacation you probably wouldn’t hear from them while they’re away, but now you often receive frequent updates of their journey from the road.

Although having the ability to connect with anyone, at almost anytime, is convenient, Starkweather doesn’t feel it’s necessary to have the device glued to his side at all times.

“There are times when I simply put the phone away, times I don’t need it,” Starkweather says.

“I never take my phone into my classroom when I teach,” Starkweather adds. “Somehow I’m able to get through that hour and 40 minutes without my phone.”

Mobile Phones Changing Interpersonal Communication

Saunders Medlock advises mobile phone users to set rules and practice good phone etiquette.

“Some of these are no phones at a meal, whether it be at home or eating out; no checking the phone on a date or when you are out with friends; phone is off at critical meetings and set to vibrate at others,” she says. “And it goes without saying you should not be on or using your phone while driving.”

She says people are in the habit of checking their cell phone in short intervals of time, like every five minutes.

“I have heard people say that they are afraid they will miss something if they do not do the checking,” she says. “And when people are not doing anything else they tend to interact with their phones to distract or entertain themselves. I have seen people in the line for the bathroom playing with their phones.”

She believes this constant reliance on mobile phones is having a negative impact on people’s interpersonal skills.

To understand the effect of Smartphones and social media on interpersonal communication, she recommends reading the book, Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other, by Sherry Turkle.

“The use of texting and Facebook and Twitter and other sites as a form of communication is eroding people’s ability to write sentences that communicate real meaning and inhibit the art of dialogue,” Saunders Medlock says. “It also allows people to communicate without ever seeing each other or hearing a voice, and this has a huge impact in that much communication is done nonverbally or in inflection and tone of voice. We will have a generation that has no clue how to read any of these cues.”

On the other side, Starkweather doesn’t believe mobile phones have necessarily had a negative impact on people’s intrapersonal skills.

He notes that people still need to do the same things when they’re communicating, such as making sure conversation is suitable for the audience they’re addressing.

“People still need to make sure they’re saying appropriate things, no matter what the situation,” Starkweather says. “The mobile phone has made it easier to amplify those mistakes.”

Monitoring Children’s Cell Phone Usage

“Research demonstrates that phones are eroding our ability to communicate in face-to-face dialogue and reducing family conversation,” Saunders Medlock says. “Gone are the days of sitting together at a table and asking the simple question of ‘how was your day?’ But that should not be the case.”

She advises parents to set time aside, where no mobile phones or other devices are present, just to spend quality time together as a family.

“Playing old school interactive games as a family is a way to have family fun time,” she says. “And of course any outdoor family activity is important. It is hard to use a mobile phone and go on a hike or a bike ride.”

She recommends that parents limit their children’s access to certain websites, and the downloading of specific mobile apps. She says children should have prepaid phones, so there are limits on talk, texting, and data usage. Parents should check their children’s mobile phones at least once per week, to keep a close watch on what they’re up to, she says.

“My child has an iPod Touch and I have a security access code for the Wi-Fi and I also hook it up to iTunes every week to check what apps she has downloaded,” she says. “If I see one I don't like, I remove it.”

“In addition phones could be seen as a privilege so are earned and can be taken away for misbehaviors,” she says. “Parents can also limit phone usage time to a set number of hours per week or day.”  

by South University
May 10, 2013
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The Mobile Medical Technology Boom

by South University
February 29, 2012

Smartphones, iPhones, and tablet computers have changed health care.

Healthcare professionals use mobile devices to look up drug and treatment reference material; help choose treatment plans for patients; and help make diagnoses. Mobile technology offers them the accessibility and flexibility needed to better care for their patients.

Steve Martin, AGC, MPAS, PA-C, DFAAPA, associate professor in the Physician Assistant program at South University, Tampa, has been using mobile medical apps for many years, beginning on personal digital assistants (PDAs) and now on his Droid Bionic smartphone.

“I use Epocrates most often,” Martin says. “I use it to look up medications for my patients. It helps me to choose the correct dose and allows me to check potential interactions with other medications the patient might be taking.”

Epocrates is an app that provides information based on clinical drug referencing as well as knowledge to help manage clinical practices and patient safety. Martin also uses the Monthly Prescribing Reference (MPR) app to look up drug information, as well as Evernote, an app that allows him to keep personal notes on a variety of medical topics.

Martin also encourages his students to use apps for reference and to keep notes.

“Many physician assistant programs are now issuing students tablet PCs for use in the classroom,” he says. “Increasingly, students are using tablets in the classroom on their own to take and organize notes, communicate with instructors and classmates, and gain access to medical and other databases for information.”

This prospect of using mobile applications is beneficial in providing critical findings regarding a patient’s lab work, radiography, or other pertinent information to the healthcare provider immediately.

In medical practice, mobile phones and tablet computers are being used in many different ways to maximize patient care and efficiency.

“The ways technology is used can be broadly broken down into four main categories: clinical reference, medical calculator, accessing electronic medical records (EMR), and patient education,” says Tom Lewis, editor of iMedicalApps, an online publication for medical professionals, patients, and analysts interested in mobile medical technology and healthcare apps.

Lewis provides further details about the four main categories of medical apps:

  • Clinical Reference: This encompasses all manner of textbooks, web references, and medical literature management to ensure that clinicians have up-to-date information so they can make informed decisions about patient care.
  • Medical Calculators: Many healthcare professionals use medical calculators to accurately work out drug dosages and other formulae.
  • EMR Access: Many hospital EMR systems allow some form of web access which many doctors use to review patient notes, order tests, and arrange follow up.
  • Patient Education: This use of mobile technology is rapidly growing, Lewis says. Apps such as drawMD and the Orca Health Decide series allow physicians and surgeons to educate their patients and inform them about their procedures and pathology.

“This prospect of using mobile applications is beneficial in providing critical findings regarding a patient’s lab work, radiography, or other pertinent information to the healthcare provider immediately,” says Tricia Howard, an assistant professor at South University, Savannah and director of Academic Education, Physician Assistant program. “Should a healthcare practitioner be off site, the ability to send critical data reduces the response time between the provider and the patient’s needs, therefore improving patient care and reducing morbidity and mortality.”

Medical Technology and Patient Interaction

Mobile technology also offers great potential for patients to take greater control of their health. Many medical apps make health care a collaborative process as patients can work with practitioners to create a personalized health plan and keep track of patient information.

“I visualize the increasing use of medical apps as the Baby Boomer generation begins to age secondary to the need for immediate information in order to see numerous patients efficiently and proficiently,” Howard says.

However, Lewis says healthcare professionals must be careful when using a mobile device to reference clinical information in front of a patient.

“It may damage the trust the patient has in the doctor, especially if you are looking up actual pathology/learning about a particular topic whilst the patient is still in the room,” he says.

Security and Privacy

Martin has found the mobility and instant access of using a tablet for health care to be beneficial, but says there is room for improvement.

“Making smartphones and tablets ‘industrial strength’ is a big issue,” he says. “They are not necessarily built to last in a commercial environment, as are some laptops and PCs.”

Security and privacy are also big concerns when discussing technology in health care.

“Although we have passwords and virtual private networks to serve as protection for patient information, there is still the opportunity to view a non-patient’s electronic medical record,” Howard says. “Any advances we can make in the area of privacy would be advantageous for encouraging the use of mobile applications.”

Late last year, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced plans to regulate medical apps. The FDA will scrutinize medical apps that act as an accessory to a medical device and those that transform the mobile device into a medical device. Some of the apps that fall under the regulatory oversight are those that allow the user to view medical images and those that allow the user to view patient-specific lab results.

“I think that the regulation of medical apps by the FDA is an important step in the pathway that results in mobile technology development with respect to health care,” Lewis says. “FDA regulation will not affect the majority of medical app developers or the apps on the market. What the FDA is very rightly concerned about are apps that interpret information and, with little oversight, drive clinical decision making.”

As medical technology evolves, patient safety must remain the principal consideration for clinicians and should always be considered.

by South University
February 29, 2012
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