Electronic Gizmos like mobile phones, personal digital assistants and pagers may put a patient’s life at risk if they are used inside operation rooms and intensive care units, says a new Dutch study.
Taking a cellphone close to life support equipment is dangerous because the signal can switch off ventilators and disrupt pacemakers, say researchers from the University of Amsterdam in the medical journal Critical Care. They recorded 50 incidents of electromagnetic interference from cellphone use in hospitals, 75 per cent of them classified as hazardous.
"Mobile phones are not allowed inside the intensive care unit in the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), but doctors hardly ever remember to switch them off. Since doctors need to be on call all the time, the hospital doesn’t insist on implementing the rule either. In all these years, no untoward incident has been reported,” says Dr D.K. Sharma, medical superintendent, AIIMS.
Most hospitals ask doctors to put mobiles on silent to lower noise pollution. “Studies have shown that a mobile phone is the fastest paging system in hospitals. At Max Heart Hospital, doctors carry phones inside intensive care units but take care not to keep them next to electronic medical equipment," says Dr Ashok Seth, chairman, Max Heart and Vascular Institute.
"New medical equipment are immune to electromagnetic interference. Even people with pacemakers are allowed to use mobile phones with basic precautions such as not carrying the phone in their breast pocket, just over the pacemaker,” says Dr A.K. Bisoi, professor, cardiothoracic and vascular surgery, AIIMS.
This, however, is a controversial issue. “We have been following the issue closely and tests conducted at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, in March this year showed that normal use of mobile phones caused no interference with patient care equipment," says Dr Anupam Sibal, director, medical services, Apollo Hospitals.
The Dutch team — which tested 61 different medical devices — found most incidents stemmed from the latest general packet radio service signal, which allows wireless Internet access. They recommend that mobiles come no closer than one meter to hospital beds and equipment.