Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Cell Phones OK in Hospitals?

From USA Today:
"No ill effects found in hospital cellphone use

Despite signs in hospitals nationwide, little evidence exists that modern cellphone use interferes with medical equipment, and allowing doctors to use cellphones decreases medical errors, a paper in the journal Anesthesia and Analgesia finds.

Cellphone bans in hospitals are "annoying, and you're doing it for no reason. It's all voodoo," says Roy Soto, an anesthesiologist at Stony Brook University in New York and lead author of the paper in the February issue.


According to an informal survey cited by the American Society for health care Engineering, about one-quarter of all hospitals ban cellphones entirely, half ban them from patient care areas, and the remaining quarter have no ban.


The bans go back to early reports from the 1980s that turning on a cellphone could turn off a ventilator or disrupt monitoring equipment.

But in surveying the engineering and medical literature on the topic, the researchers found that most incidents were single-case reports rather than widespread problems.

Modern digital cellphones use much less power than older analog models. And in 1979, the Food and Drug Administration created guidelines for shielding electronic medical devices, the paper notes.

Michael Imhoff, a physician and medical information specialist at Ruhr-University in Germany, says in an editorial in the journal that many of the communication errors cited might better be addressed by electronic patient records.

But for safety he suggests the 3-foot rule, which means keeping cellphones at least an arm's length away from medical equipment."
That's fine for medical personnel - it speeds up information flow between physicians and outside sources, which improves medical care.

Unfortunately, the news for the public isn't so good:

"Still, Imhoff believes cellphone use should be restricted to medical personnel and not for use by visitors and patients, "not only to limit the risk of electromagnetic interference but also to reduce overall annoyance from private cellphone use in patient areas."
Some of the hospitals in the health system where I work allow cell phones, some don't - it's not a uniform policy. But maybe this is a good, documented step toward allowing their use across the board.

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