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Tuesday, 9 January, 2001, 17:07 GMT
Mobile hospital danger revealed
Mobile phones can affect hospital equipment
Mobile phones can affect hospital equipment
Mobile phones do wreck readings on key hospital monitors, researchers have confirmed.

Tests carried out in America on heart and lung machines have shown the closer mobiles are to sensitive equipment, the greater the interference.

The tests provide more evidence backing bans on mobile use in many UK hospitals.

In 7% of cases, phones affected readings to an extent that could have affected how the machine worked or how data was interpreted.

Some interference was noted in 41% of tests.

The danger area is below 33 inches, say the researchers, who say phones are unlikely to cause problems if they are used more than five feet from equipment.


In an editorial accompanying the research paper, ophthalmologist Dr David Herman and anaesthesiologist Dr John Abenstein, both from the Mayo Clinic, write that banning mobiles in a patient's room or ward would be a "modest precaution".

It would seem reasonable either to limit or to ban the use of cellular phones in the vicinity of medical electronic devices

Mayo Clinic doctors

"It would seem reasonable either to limit or to ban the use of cellular phones in the vicinity of medical electronic devices where patients are particularly vulnerable, such as the intensive care unit and operating unit, until safety of these devices can be reasonably proven."

The team, from the Mayo Clinic, Minnesota, was looking for evidence of whether or not there should be restrictions on the use of mobile phones in hospitals.

Dr David Hayes, the cardiologist who led the study, published in the journal Mayo Clinic Proceedings, said: "When additional testing is completed, policies regarding cellular phone usage within the hospital environment can be constructed objectively."

Over 500 tests were carried out in the study.

The worst interference was to a mechanical ventilator, which shut down and restarted when a phone was held within two inches.

Doctors also saw interference to electrocardiogram machine (ECG) readings.

Digital and analogue phones both affected readings.

The researchers say most previous studies have looked at how wireless technology interfered with internal devices such as pacemakers.

'Objective evidence'

This study looks at mobiles and heart monitors, providing what the Mayo Clinic team say is objective evidence about the effect of the phones.

The ban on mobiles in hospitals has, say the researchers, been based on theoretical concerns that wireless technology can interfere with equipment.

A spokeswoman from the British Heart Foundation said: "This study confirms the need to protect the patient when electrical equipment is being used to monitor or treat their condition.

"Generally, a distance of at least 1.5 metres between mobile 'phones and electrical equipment can offer a safe environment for the patient but extra caution is needed in the high dependency areas.

"In most hospitals, visitors are always advised to turn off their mobile 'phones when entering the hospital as a precautionary measure."

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