When Is it Okay to Use Personal Devices at Work?

This article was republished with permission from SCRUBS Magazine.

Nurses are often asked to work long hours and, like most professionals, they like to send personal texts and emails while on the job. Even with breaks and meals, being away from their phones for long periods of time can be challenging for some nurses, especially if they have children and familial responsibilities.

Thanks to the rise of telehealth and electronic health records, using digital communication devices on the job has become second-nature for many nurses and care providers. Several healthcare facilities have issued communication devices to staff members or asked nurses to use their own devices. However, with HIPAA and patient privacy concerns, some nurses may be disciplined for this if it isn’t done at appropriate times. Learn more about texting at work, including when it’s appropriate and when it could get you into trouble.

How Many Nurses Use Mobile Devices at Work and for What?

Studies show the majority of nurses use mobile communication devices at work, such as smartphones and tablets. Excluding lunches and breaks, just 5.65% of the nurses surveyed said they never use their personal communication devices at work. Of those that said they do use them at work, most nurses reported using these devices for work-related activities:

  • 29% reported using their personal devices for checking or sending text messages or emails to colleagues and other healthcare team members
  • 25% reported using personal devices as a calculator
  • 20% reported using their personal devices for accessing work-related medical information

Fewer nurses said they use personal devices on the job for nonwork-related activities:

  • 19% reported using these devices for texting family and friends
  • 5% reported using these devices for shopping
  • 3% said they use these devices for playing games at work

How Do Nurses Feel About Using Mobile Devices at Work?

As it turns out, nurses aren’t exactly thrilled about using these devices on the job. Just a fraction of nurses in the survey said that using personal devices on the job has had a positive effect on their work:

  • 30% said using personal communication devices reduces stress
  • 28% said using these devices improves patient care
  • 25% said these devices improve communication and coordination between the healthcare team members
  • 17% said these devices improve teamwork

On the other hand, a majority of the nurses that participated in the survey (69%) said these devices are doing more harm than good:

  • 39% said these devices are a distraction at work
  • 7% said using these devices had a negative effect on their work performance
  • 4% said these devices caused them to miss important clinical information
  • 1% said these devices led them to make a medical error
  • 69% reported witnessing another nurse’s use of devices negatively affect their work performance
  • 30% reported witnessing another nurse miss important clinical information as a result of using these devices
  • 12% reported witnessing another nurse make a medical error as a result of using these devices

What You Need to Know About Using These Devices at Work

The use of digital communication devices at work is raising issues of patient and employee privacy and security. Under HIPAA, facilities “must implement device and media controls as a part of their physical safeguards.” HIPAA defines those safeguards as “policies and procedures that govern the receipt and removal of hardware and electronic media that contain protected health information into and out of a facility, and the movement of these items within the facility.”

Many healthcare facilities have introduced bring your own device (BYOD) policies, which means nurses and other care providers are encouraged, if not required, to use personal communication devices for work-related purposes, including interfacing with colleagues, coordinating care, and accessing EHRs.

But nurses need to understand that the facility may need to audit their personal communication devices if they’re being used for work-related activities. Nurses may also be restricted in terms of what apps they can use and where they store work-related information on their phones. The facility will also need to keep a record of which employees are using personal devices and where and how they’re being used in the facility, in case one of these devices is lost or stolen.

Disciplinary Action for Texting at Work

Nurses could face disciplinary action, be terminated, or even face legal consequences for using these devices on the job in ways that violate HIPAA policy or the facility’s employee guidelines.

One nurse recently spoke about how her employer took disciplinary action against her for sending a personal text message at work. The employer charged the nurse with “improper telephone communication”. The nurse now fears being terminated from her position or being reported to the state board of nursing. The text message, which can be used as evidence against the nurse, was eventually shown to the employer. It remains unclear whether the nurse was using a personal communication device or one that was issued by her employer.

If the nurse is terminated, she may be able to appeal the termination if she feels the decision was unfair or inconsistent with the employer’s policies for smartphone use. The state nursing board may decide to further penalize the nurse if her employer decides to terminate her. The nurse will have to explain the termination to the state nursing board. The board will then decide if the nurse should be allowed to continue practicing as a registered nurse.

Nurses should always have a clear understanding of their facility’s device and communication policies for both personal devices and work-issued devices as well as state nursing rules. If a nurse has any questions about where they should keep these devices, which apps they can use, and whether these devices will be audited, they should speak directly to their managers or an HR representatives.

The use of digital communication devices continues to cause confusion among care providers, so everyone should feel comfortable speaking up and asking questions about how they should be using these devices.

Your turn to weigh in? What do you think? When is it okay to pull out your cell phone and text, check personal email or social media? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.


This article was republished with permission from SCRUBS Magazine.


  1. From my expereince as an OR manager, the personal functions of cell phone use reported in this article are grossly understated. In the operating room, especially during long cases, staff are using these with impunity for games, Facebooking, shopping, etc. when they should be surveilling the room for safety concerns, breaches in sterility, anticipating case needs, etc. One element of cell phone use that is not mentioned is that these devices are dirty and are likely spreading germs which could lead to patient harm, which should be an especially cogent consideration in the age of Covid.

  2. As an OR nurse in a busy trauma surgery Dept , I found it very frustrating when trying to train new graduate nurses or scrub techs. The younger generation seems to be especially tethered to their phones –and very distracted by them. One even got very defensive with me when I told him he needed to leave his phone in his locker (he’d already been told this by admin folks on the unit). Some surgeons and residents like to get texts when the OR is set up and ready but I don’t really think this justifies having cell phones in the OR.
    In previous years, parents would get phone calls at the main desk if the day care or babysitter needed them.
    I just think everyone has become overly-dependent on cell phones–at the expense of patient care.

  3. I keep mine on me at all times- my daughter has T1d and her cgm sends data to my phone every 5 minutes. I don’t use it to Facebook or shop on amazon and it’s on vibrate only while with patients. The telephone and computer system at work are dependent on electricity and prone to total failure, especially here in California. I’ve been forced to use my personal cell many times- looking up information, making calls, texting co-workers and physicians. I personally don’t think we all should HAVE to lock up our phones while at work, it should be based on if it’s being abused.

  4. I’m in home health care and work nights, so my situation is a bit different than most. I use my smart phone to look up medical information regularly, use the calculator, and even to email or text the office updates and/or changes in orders or condition. We have not yet gone to online documentation. It will be interesting to see how they handle every nurse having an electronic device and WiFi access to chart. I think the large cost has been the main obstacle. It’s also hard to do a blanket training when each case is so different.

  5. There is an app for policy and procedures called elemeno, which can be very helpful at work that you can have on your phone.Also the reality is nurses in the or are using their phones to text each other when a room or pt is ready to go,since it saves time.My phone is on vibrate at work. I use the calculator on the phone at work. Otherwise it stays in my pocket till break time.

  6. The manager at the ED where I worked made it clear that personal cell phones were not allowed in the department and had to be kept in the lockers provided. Her theory was that they were a distraction which would take away from concentration on patient care.

  7. I, personally, rarely carry my cellphone unless I am expecting a call from family r/t issue with my elderly mother and then my family is well aware of my schedule and how to reach me through the hospital land-line. I become frustrated at those who can be walking up the hall or entering nurses station and whipping out their phones to look at facebook or worse taking pictures and posting to various sites. Have seen policy where it is forbidden but “as long as you don’t get caught – the felling is they continue” and I also have seen where one hospital, that I worked as a traveler, reprimanded 2 or 3 nurses for posting while at work when it obviously came from nursing area (no HIPPA violation that I saw). As far as termination, this is the electronic age and children as young as 5 all carry phones but maybe all need to put them away, off the work area. I use mine for the OB wheel and some facilities have one that is official business only and some doctors like texts vs calls during day. I feel there has to be a happy medium and then follow the rules

  8. I believe that a PERSONAL cell phoneshould only beused when a person is on break or lunch. Otherwise, it stays in a locker/personal bag. As a nursing instructor, our school policy is no cell phones while on the floor. I also discuss with my students why it is not a good idea to use their cell phone while on the floor: they are there to work, not check personal messages or texts. Need a calculator? Carry one or use the one on the computer. Need to check info on a med? Use the online source provided by the facility (ex. – Lexicomp) or search online using the internet access provided by the facility, I also explain that being seen using their cell phone can be viewed by others as being non-productive. Not the impression you want to give.

  9. I use my cellphone mainly for the countg my steps, calculator, light, or pharmacology apps. I do use it when im expecting an urgent call, in which case, i let my charge nurse know. However, my coworkers use it for other things (social media, shopping, movies) which -i feel- should be kept to a minimum, or done at home, or at breaks.

  10. Cell phones should be kept out of sight. Only used on lunch or break. They are a huge distraction. Nurses are there to care for patients and phones are not needed to do this!

    • Have used my cell phone with pts to look up education topics while interacting with my patients. Or even showing photos of my animals when patients want to talk about their animals and show me their pictures. It creates pt nurse bonding and u can actually see pts relax and open up to me in a professional capacity.


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