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Friday, August 7, 2020  

Cell phones interference can be killers - study showsPublished 2/10/2003

by Mike Lee

A new study points to the dangers cell phones can have on medical equipment.

Harvard researchers bolstered that line of thinking last week when they presented their findings on electromagnetic energy emitted by the tiny, time-saving devices.

According to their findings, the energy transmitted by cell phones may be strong enough to interfere with mechanical ventilators found in intensive care units, even to the point where the machine shuts down.

One cell phone call could be all it takes to put someone in arrest, according to researchers.

Biomedical engineer Cheryl Iden Shaw presented results of a study of the effects cell phones have on 20 different medical devices, including mechanical ventilators and defibrillators.

Cell phones were found to cause interference with ventilator function in 8 of 20 machines. The interference was potentially life-threatening in 2 of the 8 cases. In one case, a ventilator quit working when the cell phone was brought within an inch of the machine.

The Harvard study did find cell phones caused false alarms and unwarranted cycling of ventilators. The interference was not present at distances greater than 12 inches.

But most people would never get their cell phones within an inch of a ventilator anyway, right?

Think about a doctor doing rounds or a nurse leaning over to check a patient’s pulse or take their pressure.

Researchers found that those big pockets in lab coats are the perfect place for cell phones to slide down into and go unnoticed. Even belt clips worn on hips present the perfect opportunity for a phone to get too close to a machine at a patient’s bedside.

Harvard researchers contacted the manufacturers of the machines that shut off in the study. Those machines have been upgraded to prevent cell phone interference from occurring.

Exempla Lutheran Medical Center Spokeswoman JoEllen Hodges spends much of her time in an office adjacent to the hospital. But she is armed with a cell phone and a pager, and says once inside the halls of the hospital the cell phone really isn’t an issue.

That’s because of all the lead-lined walls in the hospital cell phone reception is almost impossible.

And coupled with the fact phones are everywhere in the hospital Hodges sticks to a land line.

Hodges said the hospital doesn’t have a stringent cell phone policy, but there are times when critical care personnel will ask visitors to turn their phones off. That’s usually for the comfort of the patient, though.

The reason Exempla doesn’t have a hard-and-fast cell phone policy, Hodges said, is because of upgrades the hospital made a few years back. Technology upgrades have been done throughout the hospital to prevent interference.

"As technology has improved we don’t run into those problems," she said.

Researchers said the study shows that hospitals should revisit their cell phone policies and standards. The study also pointed out that cell phones weren’t the only culprits, any wireless technology from laptops on rolling stands to PDAs present the possibility of tripping up the machines.

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