03.16.2007 12:00 AM
Study Says Cell Phones Don't Jam Hospital Equipment
If you've visited a hospital recently, you've probably noticed the signs requiring you shut off your cell phone. A recent study conducted at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester indicates that may not be necessary.

The study found "normal use of cell phones results in no noticeable interference with patient care equipment." Three hundred tests were performed over a five-month period in 2006 without a single problem. The authors of the study said hospitals should alter or abandon their bands on cell phone use. The bans inconvenience patients and their families by requiring them to exit hospitals to make calls.

While cell phones were exonerated in the study, other equipment was not. In one case, a CD player was found to cause interference to an electrocardiography (ECG) recording when the patient was holding it close to the ECG lead. Of more serious concern, the study noted that retail stores' anti-theft devices could cause people's heart devices such as pacemakers and defibrillators to malfunction.

J. Rod Gimbel, M.D., of East Tennessee Heart Consultants, author of the report, said employees should be trained to move a customer who has collapsed near an anti-theft device when medically advisable. He warned that if they weren't moved, they could experience recurring life-threatening malfunction to their implantable device, commenting, "Simply moving the person away from the anti-theft device may save their life."

There is a wealth of information in the report. While it focuses on cell phones and anti-theft devices, workers at transmitter sites should be aware of the impact of RF energy on medical devices, even at levels well below the maximum permissible exposure levels set by the FCC. See Hospital Equipment Unaffected By Cell Phone Use, Study Finds.

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