Fresh concerns over mobile use in hospitals

Researchers in the Netherlands have warned that critical-care equipment is vulnerable to interference from GPRS and UMTS mobile phones

Using mobile phones in hospitals can interfere with intensive-care medical equipment and machines, a new study claims.

Researchers in the Netherlands assessed the effect on critical medical-care equipment of GPRS and UMTS phone signals from 2G and 3G phones.

The electromagnetic interference (EMI) created by mobile phones transmitting the minimum level of data was measured on 61 medical-care devices.

The research triggered 48 incidents on 26 devices, 16 of which were classified as hazardous to patients.

The GPRS-1 signal produced the largest proportion of incidents (41 percent) with UMTS accounting for 13 percent.

The median distance at which mobile phones had an effect on medical equipment was 3cm, but one hazardous incident occurred when a GPRS-1 signal was activated 300cm away from a ventilator.

The research concluded that critical-care equipment is vulnerable to interference from GPRS and UMTS mobile phones, meaning a policy of keeping mobile phones more than a metre away from bedside critical-care equipment is warranted.

In May this year, the Department of Health (DoH) issued guidelines on the use of mobile phones in hospitals, which recommended mobiles should not be used in clinical areas but said NHS trusts should undertake their own risk assessments about mobile use.

Following the latest research, the DoH said in a statement: "We recognise that patients and staff should be able to use mobile phones subject to medical and privacy considerations and we see no reason for trusts to have an outright ban on mobile phones, especially in communal areas."

The agency overseeing the use and safety of medicines and medical devices, the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency, also said policy around mobile-phone use and restrictions is down to individual trusts.

But it recommends mobiles should not be used in areas where patients are attached to complex devices that could be affected by mobile signals, such as intensive therapy units or special care baby units, and it said there have been very few reports of mobile phones causing devices to malfunction.


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