Screen time, face-to-face time and family time

Wednesday 9 December 2020

How has your time been spent this year… as if I needed to ask?

As radiologists, either diagnostic or interventional, the concept of screen time isn’t new to us. We undertake interpretive work using PACS systems, and whole sessions or days passed in front of a screen seem routine and natural. Even if you’re performing ultrasound, intervention or some other practical procedure, there is always the reassurance of a screen close by, to help and guide our work. In normal times, there are numerous counterbalances to days spent in front of a screen – multidisciplinary team meetings to attend, interesting cases to discuss, teaching sessions, or perhaps just a coffee room chat with colleagues.

Through the year these breaks have been whittled away by the need for social distancing to keep ourselves and our patients safe, and our screen time has increased in consequence. Meetings, discussion and teaching have migrated to MS Teams and Zoom while informal chats are brief, distanced and conducted through masks. Though it cannot be denied that virtual communication between us has helped greatly (and the work of the RCR is a prime example), I can’t help but feel that a little bit of ourselves has been lost along the way.

The interplay between colleagues during meetings, always such a pleasure to encourage (and sometimes referee) is now preceded by virtual raised hands and taking turns. Non-verbal cues which are so important to making meetings flow are much harder to spot, and people’s participation sometimes depends on the reliability of their Wi-Fi. Encouraging everyone to have their say becomes more difficult and the nuance and feelings present in face to face meetings are sometimes hard to find.

By contrast, virtual meetings sometimes have a functional feel. Discussions are had, decisions are made but the journey to them sometimes feels less enjoyable. Combined with our clinical work, our screen time has grown and grown, perhaps increased by online shopping and virtual catch ups with friends in the evenings? Our lives are increasingly lived in front of softly glowing rectangles, but they cannot replicate the richness of reality.

It is important to remember what life was like before the pandemic, and although virtual meetings will no doubt play a large part in our lives in the future, let’s not lose the habit and pleasure of meeting face to face. At times it might be a little less efficient and a little more time consuming, but we should never forget the value of human interaction and how it acts as an antidote to too much screen time.

As I write this we have just exited national lockdown (in England) and entered tiers 1–3, which does not bode well for much face-to-face interaction in the short term. However, later this month, we have a five-day break for the time which to many of us matters most of all. I hope that everyone gets the chance for some family time over the festive season – surely something to look forward to as a welcome break from too much screen time.

It has been a hard year for us, our colleagues, our patients, and the NHS. During it, it has been very heartening to see how imaging has played its part in keeping the health service going, and humbling to see many colleagues going the extra mile to help our patients. I hope that everyone who has kept our service going is able to get some well-deserved family time to help them rest and recharge.

With best wishes for the festive season and the New Year,

Dr William Ramsden
Vice-President, Clinical Radiology


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