Should I allow cell phones in the vet clinic?

Some things to consider

A practice manager writes:

I have a problem with staff using their personal cell phones during their shift. For years, we have had a written policy stating that staff are not to use their cell phones while at work. They are to keep them in their lockers, turned off or on silent and can only use them on their breaks.

This has always been difficult to enforce. A handful of people are great at following this policy, but most will keep going back and forth to their lockers multiple times per day to check their phones. The vets are the worst offenders! It’s almost impossible to get them to even leave their phones in the lockers, they generally have them in their pockets.

I am considering either strictly enforcing this policy and taking disciplinary action when an individual doesn’t follow it….or allowing cell phones in the clinic. What do you think?

This was recently a topic of discussion on a forum I follow — it got more responses than any other question I had seen asked there! So, if it’s any consolation — you’re certainly not alone in experiencing this frustration.

Before you decide if you should strictly enforce your policy or scrap it altogether, you need to think about a few ‘truths’ — here are mine, but they may be different for you and your team:

1. Clients and Patients Come First

Most veterinary staff would agree with this.

Distractions can compromise patient care, so we make every effort to minimize them. That’s why we have dedicated surgical and patient care technicians who don’t have to deal with reception phones ringing and clients walking through the door. Many other policies, protocols and procedures are designed with this in mind.

Does a cell phone in your pocket, even on silent, distract you from dedicating all your time and attention to your patient and client?

I guess that depends on how often your phone rings. Can you remain completely focused on drawing blood from a jumpy Maltese, while your cell is vibrating in your pocket? More importantly, can a vet tech with just one-month experience do the same?

As you’re bending over a nervous German Shepherd to restrain him for an IV sedation, will your phone fall out of your pocket, give the dog a fright and cause him to bite you?

What about while you’re assisting with an euthanasia, and your phone (still on silent and in your pocket, as per the hospital policy) vibrates? Ever­-so­-quietly, but there is a distinct cell phone vibrating noise just as the animal’s head starts to slowly fall and the owner is holding back tears.

My point is, you just don’t know what can happen. In fact, nothing could happen for months or even years, but that one time a cell phone does cause a distraction that affects patient or client care.

2. Employee Satisfaction is Important

Satisfied employees are happier and more productive. They feel their needs are being fulfilled at work, in an environment with a positive morale. Constantly reminding employees that they need to put their phones away is likely to lower staff morale and reduce employee satisfaction. The more generous you are with your employees, the more loyal and satisfied they will be.

I’m not going to quote stats on the use of smartphones and how they have changed the way we live and communicate. Do you sit down on the couch to watch TV and check around to see where your phone is? You get it. Smartphones are a huge part of our lives now and we spend 8 to 10 hours per day at work, so it makes sense that employees want to have their phones on them during this time.

As things in our macroenvironment change, shouldn’t we adapt our practice policies as well?

So, How Do You Strike a Balance Between the Two?

Ultimately, every practice manager needs to formulate a cell phone policy that is aligned to their ‘truths’, core values or whatever we choose to call them. In addition, the policy needs to be reflective of the team culture. The same policy may work really well in one hospital, and be disastrous in another.

Some practices allow the use of cell phones, as long as it doesn’t negatively impact patient care and customer service. In some clinics, this policy isn’t abused and they would argue that they have struck a balance between employee satisfaction and patient care.

At the same time, some practices have experienced the negative effects of allowing employees to carry their cell phones and, as a result each team member has complete buy­in into the new policy banning cell phones.

Involve the Team

This is one of those situations where you may like to have a frank discussion with the entire team and involve them in setting the policy.

It sounds like the staff in your practice don’t believe in the validity of your current policy, so you need to find a way to get them to buy­-in to it ­whether it changes or not.

You may find that some team members say they are distracted by other people’s cell phone use or that everyone can commit to keeping the phone in their pocket and not abuse the policy.

It’s also a good idea to set a timeframe for a trial of the new policy, and agree to review it after a month or two.

Whatever Your Policy — Enforce It

There is no point in having a policy if you as a manager are not going to enforce it. Or if you selectively enforce it with some employees and not others. Either everyone follows the policy, and those who don’t are spoken to, or you change the policy altogether.

I really don’t think there is a right and wrong answer to this question.

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