The Pros and Cons of Smartphone Use by Nurses on Duty

Smartphones have altered the way of life in the United States and across the globe, affecting everything from how we navigate to how we date. While opinions vary on whether or not these devices’ benefits outweigh the risks they pose, one often forgotten sphere that is important to consider is that occupied by nurses. Nurses, like the rest of us, rely on personal smartphones, but should we be worried about their use of them while at work? Are there any benefits to be had from them in such a setting? This post will explore the pros and cons of personal smartphone utilization in hospital and other clinical settings to help you better understand the legal threat or advantages they may pose.



Despite the staunch naysayers, smartphones do offer some advantages to nurses on duty. Here are some of the major ones:

  • Communication is streamlined. The ability to get hold of other healthcare team members immediately in or outside of the facility can have direct consequences on patients’ lives. Communication breakdowns are a serious plight in healthcare; smartphones can provide an accessible and reliable method of getting the right information to the right people at the right time.[1]
  • Nurses can access reference materials. Mobile technology makes it easier to quickly access both patient information and outside information about medications, procedures, or health conditions.
  • Apps can enhance nursing practices.Numerous mobile apps to assist nurses in information and time management, patient management and monitoring, medical education and training, and clinical decision-making exist.[2]Employer-provided technology might not have these programs and functions. Additionally, nurses can use note-taking apps to record treatment in a timely fashion to avoid communication breakdowns if hospital computer systems fail.[3]



Despite the fact that many hospitals have policies forbidding use of personal phones by employees during work hours, one study found that 91.1% of participants reported checking a mobile device for missed calls and/or text messages, and half indicated accessing social media.[4]Clearly this can have repercussions:

  • Smartphones divide our attention. On slower shifts, nurses can face a lot of downtime, and may turn to their phones to entertain them. However, they can also distract them from other tasks they should be doing instead, such as monitoring patients or responding quickly and alertly to help needed.[5]When one attempts to multitask with a phone, they are much more likely to make a mistake, miss important information or observations, or fail to respond in a timely fashion.
  • Attachment to phones can cause nurses to ignore protocol. One nursing consultant aptly points out that those of us who find ourselves intuitively checking our phones at any free moment feel great anxiety about having our phone access denied or limited.[6]However, the need to check may cause nurses to use spare moments between rounds to look at personal messages instead of tending to patients or keep them from putting down their phone immediately when their assistance is needed. The “just a minute!” excuse doesn’t really work in hospitals.
  • Smartphones can cause security concerns. In a post we published last year on data breaches, we discussed the uptick in concerning events regarding healthcare data security. Personal smartphones that use unsecure networks or are not password protected pose a threat to private personal information of patients.[7]
  • Nurses don’t realize the effects smartphones have on their ability to do their work. One study found that out of over 800 participants asked, only 7.4% reported that their work performance had been negatively affected by their mobile phone use, yet 70.9% of respondents reported that they had seen a colleague’s work performance negatively affected.[8]While it’s easy to see the effects of distraction on others, it is much harder to recognize risks in one’s self.


Nurses using their phones when they shouldn’t be can lead to cases of negligence, medication errors, never events, and other mistakes that could result in serious ethical and legal consequences. However, if used responsibly and creatively, they might also strengthen communication and practice, and even possibly save lives.

[1]Holland, Taylor Mallory, “Mobile Technology in Nursing Improves Quality of Care at Hospitals,” Samsung Insights, Nov. 5, 2015,

[2]Ventola, C. Lee, “Mobile Devices and Apps for Health Care Professionals: Uses and Benefits,” NCBI, May 2014, 39(5), 356-364: 356. Accessed at

[3]Holland, “Mobile Technology in Nursing,”

[4]Piscotty, R., Martindell, E. & Karim, M. “Nurses’ self-reported social media and mobile device use in the work setting”, Online Journal of Nursing Informatics, Feb. 4, 2016, 20(1),

[5]Bartholomew, Kathleen, “Distracting Nursing: On Personal Cell Phones Use at Work,” American Journal of Nursing, June 2018, 118(6): p. 11


[7]Parker, Cherly D., “Evolution or revolution? Smartphone use in nursing practice,” American Nurse Today, Nov. 2014, 9(11),

[8]McBride, D., LeVasseur, S. A., Li, D., “Nursing Performance and Mobile Phone Use: Are Nurses Aware of Their Performance Decrements?” JMIR Human Factors, 2015, 2(1),