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Mobile telephone use in British hospitals was previously restricted, based on the 1997 Medical Devices Agency guidelines.1 These guidelines reflected concerns that mobile phones generate electromagnetic interference which can interfere adversely with electronic medical devices. Sensible precautionary measures have led to calls to decrease the restrictions on mobile telephone usage within hospitals.2,3 Updated guidelines have recently been published which aim to clarify inconsistent policies among healthcare organisations.4
Many doctors find that mobile telephones are a convenient method of communicating within the hospital environment. We conducted a questionnaire based survey of doctors from all specialties in a city teaching hospital (unpublished data). Of the 381 doctors questioned, 178 (47%) replied, 174 of whom (98%) owned a mobile telephone, and 114 (66%) admitted to using it in hospital. The most common reason given for use in hospital was for emergency clinical matters (n = 83, 73%), although over half used their telephones for personal calls. 112 doctors (64%) admitted to leaving their telephones on in “high risk” areas such as operating theatres and high dependency units which contain vital electronic medical devices. However, only five doctors (3%) reported ever seeing an adverse effect on medical equipment.
With the use of mobile telephones being so widespread and the emergence of new mobile equipment for electronic health records and prescribing, it is clear that the recent revision of national policy was needed. Mobile telephones are an established method of communication in hospital and are commonly used with many benefits to patient care. The Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) recommends that “a balanced approach is necessary to ensure that all the benefits of mobile wireless technology can be made to all organisations”.4 The MHRA recommendations also include careful consideration of areas where restrictions should still apply.
We have established that mobile telephone usage is widespread by doctors, particularly in emergencies, within both the general hospital environment and in high risk areas. Our findings show that mobile telephones have rarely been observed to cause adverse effects to medical equipment. Policies to prevent the unmanaged use of mobile communication equipment are still necessary to reduce the risk to patients. However, if mobile phones are used sensibly, the benefits to patient care may outweigh the limited risk of interfering with equipment, particularly in emergency situations. Mobile telephones are soon to be joined in hospital by a variety of other electronic mobile communication devices. It is therefore essential that the emphasis is now placed on assessing the risk to and protecting sensitive equipment.