Current phones cause even less interference and modern medical equipment is better-shielded, but the most recent guidance from the National Health Service in Britain, for example, still warns against their use in critical or intensive card wards, stating that they could interfere with dialysis machines, defibrillators, ventilators and monitors. For the moment, this could be a wise precaution, because if a phone were held very close to a piece of equipment then it might affect it. For this reason, some have suggested that medical equipment should come ready-protected from such signals, or that hospitals install phone base stations to prevent the phones from having to transmit at stronger power in order to get a signal. This would, of course, cost hospitals money.
Far from causing incidents, mobile phones might even prevent them by allowing doctors to respond faster. A survey of more than four thousand anaesthesiologists in the US found they were six times more likely to have witnessed an injury or error as a result of delays in communication than to have observed interference of any kind (even non-risky interference) caused by a mobile phone.
So with the exception of holding phones next to critical care equipment, there is no convincing evidence supporting blanket bans on the grounds of electromagnetic interference. But there might be other reasons why phones are not so desirable in hospitals. Phones are hard to clean, and how many of us ever do so? A study of healthcare workers in Southern India found that 95% of their phones were contaminated with bacteria. Meanwhile studies of staff phones in Barbados and patients’ phones in a hospital in Turkey both showed contamination rates of 40%, sometimes with bacteria known to show resistance to many types of antibiotics.
On top of the hygiene problems, there are issues of privacy. Most phones now come complete with cameras and sometimes people just can’t resist taking pictures. The LA Times reported that staff at one hospital even took photos of a 60-year-old man dying from multiple stab wounds and put them up on Facebook. In that case, perhaps phones in hospitals aren’t such a good idea after all.
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