Mobile Phones – Care Partner’s Friend Or Foe?

July 21, 2014

Sally Hopkins

Sally Hopkins, EARC and Business Development Manager – Eden in Oz & NZ

It’s Monday and I thought I’d share a story on a lesson to be learned about the potential impact of mobile phones for staff and resident relationship development.  We know that many people are ‘wedded’ to their mobile phones & internet virtual friends – being in constant contact with cyberspace for a nano-second or more seems to be imperative for them to survive!

At a recent Eden Associate training we asked all participants to turn their phones to silent…(there would be time through the day to check in).  This unfortunately didn’t happen for one group of new employees in particular. They were constantly on their phones – FB, games, texting etc.  Very frustrating and illuminating at the same time.

Their behaviour raises the question…”is this what we want to see from care partners when they’re providing care to elders?” Do we want staff to be constantly distracted and not focusing upon the here and now? I know if it was me in that bed or chair and wanting some real connection, that my care partner being wedded to their mobile phone & other ‘life’ isn’t going to do it for me.  I would like them to be in the moment with me or other elders with whom we are hopefully developing meaningful relationships.

Principle 4 is about giving & receiving care to eliminate helplessness.  Locked onto a phone screen whilst being with an elder, is certainly creating an intense level of helplessness for the care recipient.  (Where are they? What about me?) Principle 6 is about what is meaningful for Elders.  Certainly we know of great knowledge sharing between care partners around the whole I.T. challenge – phones, tablets, laptops etc & that Skype is a wonderful connector.

Talented people can certainly share their knowledge and skill with elders with this, at times, challenging platform of communication.  But is it meaningful long term?

In hindsight, the whole issue of connection needs to be explored more fully and that our selection of care partners who truly care about the relationships they have with Elders rises above the ‘immediate response’ of the here and now of the internet and mobile phone. These instruments are not my care partner of choice.

In seeing these people in our training and their lack of response to the request leads me to believe that their future in providing meaningful care to others will always be compromised by other forces which Elders have no control over.  This is not person directed care from an elder’s perspective, but person directed care from a care givers perspective…”I will provide care to you on my terms”. 

The Eden Alternative focuses upon resident directed or person directed care. We are here for Elders and focus on a partnership in care.  There is no “I” in T.E.A.M. The team is everyone, including Elders.  We are aiming to change the culture of care and mobile phones can be a part of our physical change but I do not believe at the expense of “why are we here?”

As Ghandi says, “be the change you want to see in others”.  That means turning off the mobile phone until my work is finished.  The sun will still rise tomorrow and your cyber friends won’t “unlike” you just because you’re not ‘on’ for 24/7.  We need to be ‘on’ for the Elders in our care environment.

7 Comments. Leave new

Laura Beck, The Eden Alternative
July 21, 2014 12:29 pm

Sally… I so appreciated this post. It feels especially important when we consider that many of the people benefiting from care are of a generation that may not appreciate technical intrusions, like the use of smart phones. It seems to me that an important part of knowing someone deeply is taking the time to understand what connection and being present means to him or her. True, some Elders are curious about and are engaged in social media, etc. Others may not want it around, especially when they need to feel really “seen” by the care partners with whom they are collaborating. Popular culture often cajoles us to “keep up with the times.” But when we make a commitment to customize care for the individual, it’s time to open our hearts and minds to the many different ways we can “BE” with each other.

Barbara Smullen
July 21, 2014 1:08 pm

Oh, I am SO GLAD to read your piece about phones and other electronics. As an Elder I can tell you that care partners who wear, use and obsess about their phones when they are supposed to be taking care of me make me absolutely FURIOUS. It is the ultimate turnoff. It sends the message that the phone and whoever is on the other end of it are more important than me, and my fellow Elders .We have a policy about cell phones but it is not enforced. The use / non use of cell phones should be taught as a dramatic illustration of what is meant by persons directed care….the omission of phones from the environment is central to culture change.


I would love to know the opinion of elders regarding point of service documentation for therapists and other healthcare professionals. Many rehab companies are “requiring” speech-language pathologists, occupational therapists, and physical therapists to document/bill sessions at the time of service. Even though I feel it is important to continually discuss progress and status, I do not feel it is appropriate to complete paperwork at point of service. In addition to being rude, I feel it is not being a good steward to the therapy time. Therapy time should be short treatment not documentation.

Barbara Smullen
September 4, 2014 2:14 pm

I may be dense (I am an Elder with three graduate degeres and twenty years experience teaching in and administering a baccalaureate program for RN’s, )but I do not understand what the problem is that you wants us to respond to. Can you say it in less jargon ?


Barbara – Sure. Thanks for requesting a clarification. Many companies are asking speech-language pathologists, occupational therapists, and physical therapists to use iPads, laptops, or mobile devices to write down therapy session notes during the therapy session with elders. Medicare won’t pay for documentation time if it isn’t with the patient, so it is becoming a common request of companies. In your previous comment you mentioned that when people are on their phone it makes you furious. Does it matter what they are doing? What if they are documenting the care they are providing? As a healthcare provider and a healthcare consumer (in my 30s), I dislike documentation during the session. As a patient, I feel that the healthcare provider isn’t providing me with all of their attention. As a healthcare provider, I feel that I’m not making the most of the time I spend with elders. But I am wondering if I’m the only one feeling this way.

Barbara Smullen
September 15, 2014 10:05 pm

Thanks so much for the clarification. I didn’t realize we were talking about using the phone to document care. I don’t like that, but I accept it because I understand the need to document for Medicare. I do miss “the old days” when there was a chance to really visit with the care provider. When I referred to being furious, I was thinking of care partners making and receiving endless social calls with providing care to
me squeezed in when it fits in the social call.


Thank you Barbara and Laura for your comments. I raised this issue with the management team and we discussed the whole process of ‘what is acceptable’ in the workplace.

Before mobile (cell) phones we would ring reception if there was an emergency. This has obviously shifted away to direct contact.

My personal view is that they should be left in the locker/handbag whilst at work if it isn’t a work tool.

Barbara, I fully comprehend your fury…I had some of that myself!!! In part it was the total disregard that was evident with these people that most offended. I can only imagine that the more the behaviour goes unchecked and unchallenged the greater the erosion of personhood for Elders. This is now firmly on my radar so no doubt we will be discussing again.

I wonder if people would be prepared to challenge each other to turn off their phones for the number of hours in their work schedule day?
The prize?
Greater satisfaction for all and a phone recharging station at reception!!!


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