Exclusives, Operations

Look Up From Your Screen

One of the best things about being in the emergency services is the freedom we enjoy from a traditional office setting. Increasingly, though, our mobile devices are infiltrating our space and chewing up our time and attention. We can be sitting in the cab of an emergency vehicle anywhere, but still be tethered by our phone and tablets, unless we make a conscious choice not to be ruled by techno-diversions.

As a member of the healthcare world, why not set an example to others and choose to heed the advice of experts to look up from the screens to which we all seem addicted? Here are three good reasons:

1. Digital Eye Strain
Have you ever noticed scratchy-dry, tired or runny eyes? You’re not alone. Some 50–90% of people who spend a lot of time watching electronic screens feel these things.

When it happens, think back over your day (or night) and review how much time was spent staring at the screen of an electronic device (e.g., computer, tablet, smartphone). It’s called “digital eye strain” and, no surprise, eye doctors are worried about the increasing incidence of it.

It happens largely because blink rate drops significantly when a person stares too long at a screen. A nuisance at the outset, it can become a chronic problem. The good news: it’s preventable.

Here are a couple of things to try—in addition to having appropriate lighting and doing what it takes to reduce glare. Blink mindfully every so often, say, three times an hour by closing the eyes slowly, as if falling asleep. Do this 10 times to help rewet your eyes naturally. Or employ the “20-20-20 Rule.” That is, gaze at something 20 (or more) feet away for at least 20 seconds every 20 minutes.
2. Blue Light Exposure
Blue light is at the highest end of the wavelengths of light visible to the human eye, and it’s always been there. These short-wavelength light rays are what make a cloudless sky look blue. However, in recent years, our collective exposure to blue light has exploded because of our obsessive use of digital devices. This increased exposure can cause permanent damage to eyes, and the effects can be cumulative. Too much exposure to blue light can lead to early onset of macular degeneration. Believe me, you don’t want that!

Blue light exposure is part of what causes digital eye strain. In addition, it can create sleep disorders by interfering with your innate melatonin production. In order to promote healthy sleep (which is hard enough to get, right?), develop the self-discipline to cut back on screen use a few hours before you want to sleep.

Minimize blue light exposure by monitoring how much screen time you and your family are getting. Get blue light filters for your devices or protective eyewear. Be smart, and don’t get reverse-obsessive; some blue light is good for you—just not too much.

3. Customer Service
When we actually land an emergency run, we benefit (as do our patients) from the information offered by screens on ECG monitors, AEDs, pulse oximetry devices, and other tools of the trade. But part of our service involves interacting with other people. Human interaction relies on good communication, which relies on connection. Make it your habit to remember the person at the other end of the cables, and to look up at him or her often.

One of your finest customer service tools is eye contact. It’s a skill, one that requires practice and development. It makes others feel better touched by your care, because eye contact reaches into a person deeply. It’s a method for gaining crucial information from the other person, establishing your authority, and, maybe most importantly, nonverbally expressing your compassion.

It can be unnerving at first to use good eye contact because it’s such a direct and two-way process. When you’re building this skill and need a break from the intensity that can occur, look for a moment at the other person’s nose, between the eyes, then back into full eye contact when you’re ready.

From the eyes of others you can discern their truest emotions. So look up and away from your screens, at your patients. Make it a habit. You’ll be surprised how much you can add to your clinical assessments with this simple, always-available tool.