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Why Cell Phones Should be Allowed in Hospitals

Drivers on Cell Phones Kill Thousands, Snarl T

The prohibition against mobile phones in hospitals may do more harm than good, a new report reveals.

Medical facilities prohibit cell phone use, but some doctors already use them. And it turns out they reduce medical errors because communication is more timely, a new study finds.

Mobile phones rarely cause electronic magnetic interference, Yale School of Medicine researchers reported today.

The study is published in the February issue of Anesthesia & Analgesia. It was based on 4,018 responses from attendees at the 2003 meeting of the American Society of Anesthesiologists.

Of those who responded, 65 percent reported using pagers as their primary mode of communications, and of those, 40 percent reported delays in communications.

Of the 17 percent of respondents who said they used cell phones, only 31 percent reported delays.

No word how the patients involved in all those delays fared. But some good news:

Study leader Keith Ruskin, associate professor in the Departments of Anesthesiology and Neurosurgery, said electronic interference from cell phones is a thing of the past.

"The new digital cell phones used much higher power and operate at a different frequency," Ruskin said. "The small risks of electromagnetic interference between mobile telephones and medical devices should be weighed against the potential benefits of improved communication."

So there's this tradeoff:

Ruskin said the 2.4 percent prevalence of electronic interference with life support devices such as ventilators, intravenous infusion pumps, and monitoring equipment should be weighed against the known 14.9 percent risk of medical error or injury due to communication delays.

A decision for those who run hospitals but not for the impatient cell phone user in a waiting room.

Robert Roy Britt
Rob was a writer and editor at Space.com starting in 1999. He served as managing editor of Live Science at its launch in 2004. He is now Chief Content Officer overseeing media properties for the sites’ parent company, Purch. Prior to joining the company, Rob was an editor at The Star-Ledger in New Jersey, and in 1998 he was founder and editor of the science news website ExploreZone. He has a journalism degree from Humboldt State University in California.