Cell phones: not such a pain in hospitals

In Brief

Medicine

October 28, 2005|By LOS ANGELES TIMES

Hospitals warn us to turn off our cell phones for fear of interfering with Dad's heart monitor or Aunt Millie's life support. However, new research shows that cell phones interfere only minimally with medical equipment.

In a report published in the October issue of Mayo Clinic Proceedings, researchers measured interference between 16 medical devices, such as heart monitors and defibrillators, and six types of cell phones. Although cell phones interfered with the signal of seven devices, they affected the machines' function only 1.2 percent of the time. Devices most vulnerable to problems were those that displayed activity of the brain and heart.

"In most cases, [interference] wasn't something that would clinically affect the patient," says lead author Dr. David Hayes, a cardiologist at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn.

Although many hospitals limit cell-phone use partly out of courtesy but partly for fear that wireless phones cause medical devices to malfunction, Hayes said that that assumption had never been tested, especially with newer cell phones.

He doesn't suggest that restrictions be changed yet. The scientists have tested devices using clinical simulators only. They are now planning tests while the machines are used on patients.

Also, hospitals would still need to resolve cell-phone etiquette issues. "I think it's important for patient[s] and family members to be able to use phones to call family," says Hayes. "But there is also the flip side of driving people crazy who are trying to rest."

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