Cell Phones vs Hospital Equipment: Less Interference, Still Annoying

via MedGadget: Cell Phones vs Hospital Equipment: Less Interference, Still Annoying:

“In their most recent analysis of cellular telephones and medical equipment, Mayo Clinic researchers report in the October issue of Mayo Clinic Proceedings that the cellular telephones tested did not interfere with medical devices that were more than three feet away, marking an improvement. In the current study, 44 percent of the devices recorded some interference from the cellular telephones but the vast majority of this interference should not have had any significance for the patient.”

My hospital allows cell phones pretty much everywhere, and the ED spent a lot of money to make it cell-phone friendly for our Nextel phones. I’m mostly happy with the availability and instant communication (and to not have to carry around a Motorola brick radio), but a few times I’ve stood, more or less patiently, while the patient gets off the phone. Some people don’t know how to say “I’ll call you later, goodbye’.

The other interesting thing is the number of people to whom I give the results of their tests and discharge instructions while talking to the top of their heads, so they don’t lose focus on the cell phone game they’re playing. Yea, cellphones.


  1. TheNewGuy says:

    Want to put a stop to that? Wait a few seconds, then immediately leave the room.

    That almost always works for me. You virtually always have other patients that need you, and wasted time is wasted time.

  2. Bad Shift says:

    We’re trying to decide how serious we’re going to get about our cell phone ban. Currently not officially allowed, but tolerated. Since they are not allowed, I have no problem tending to my non-cell-talking patients first. If you are on a cell phone, you get triaged down.

  3. GoatWhacker says:

    If a patient keeps talking on his cell more than a few moments after I come in, I usually mouth “I’ll come back later”. Usually the patient will end the call at that point and if not I’ll go see somebody else.

  4. While I also find cell phones to be socially annoying (many times very), the whole argument about interference with medical equipment has always seemed totally bogus. First of all, I think the burden of the interference problem should be with the medical equipment companies to use frequencies and digital transmission to avoid problems, otherwise there might be a problem with a cardiac transmitter interfering with a respirator.
    Secondly, I am not aware of there ever being an equipment failure or misinterpreted cardiac arrhythmia from a cell phone. The “research” tends to be set up with a process designed to keep trying things until interference is seen, and then say, “Aha!”.
    I just wish more people would develop the social courtesy of turning off their cell phones (why do they want to be immediately available all the time?) — is this a way to feel important?
    And the problem with phone calls interfering with seeing a patient in the hospital predates cell phones; it’s still more common to be interrupted with a wired phone call.

  5. I remain dubious about the effects of cell phones around sensitive equipment, even in airplanes.
    The wavelengths don’t mesh.
    As far as patients on phones, I agree with the comments about waiting a tick or two and then leaving the room.

  6. In most hospital situations, I think cellphone bans are officiousness without thought. The vast majority of people use their phones without disrupting those around them, and I think it’s a good use of technology in the extreme circumstance of having a loved-one in hospital.

    That’s not to say that all uses are equal, and a polite ‘perhaps you could take this out into the lobby’ would certainly be an option.

    Since I posted this I’ve been reminded that I also have to chase patients off the phones in the hall to see / discuss findings with them, so it’s not just cellphones that are distracting.

    And, as I work at one of those ‘customer-service-friendly’ ED’s, I’m loathe to peeve people about their phone use unless I need to: just because they’re being rude doesn’t give me license to be rude in return.

    The first time.

  7. frostedlexicharm says:

    Sorry this is a late comment, but…

    My 3 year old has spent most of his life in the hospital, and I had previously thought the cellphone ban was bogus, as I’d used mine in the NICU, the PICU, and on various floors at 3 different hospitals. (he was born with a midgut volvulous with malrotation, for the curious, and needed a liver/sm bowel transplant at 11 mos)

    Then, my friend’s dad had an emergency quadruple bypass, and had just been wheeled into his room after leaving recovery, and was hooked up to bunches of monitors and so forth. Friend’s mom had forgotten to turn her cellphone off, and within minutes of the nurses leaving the room she got a phone call from family anxiously awaiting news. The instant the cellphone went off, the monitors flatlined, some other monitors started beeping like crazy…. Of course, in a pt that has just had a quadruple bypass, this is Not A Good Sign. The room was swarmed with people, who found my friend’s dad happily sitting up and chatting away on the cellphone to his parents.


  8. Talar Joint says:

    I work in a clinic that mainly sees undocumented immigrants from south of the border. I was surprised how many had cell phones, until I read how fast cell phones are spreading in Africa.
    A little too often folks take calls while I am seeing them. I think I’ll start walking out a little quicker.