More Cell Phone Use, Less Medical Error, Study Shows

The use of cell phones by medical personnel lowered the overall error rate, due to adequate communication; because of changes in technology, there's less risk of interference with hospital equipment.

A new study suggests that despite a small risk of cell phones interfering with medical equipment, their use by medical personnel actually lowered the overall error rate due to adequate communication.

Hospital policies prohibiting cell phone use may no longer be relevant.

The electronic interference from mobile telephone has been a problem in the past because of older telemetry equipment and analog cell phones.

But now the technology has changed, making it less of a risk for interfering with hospital equipment.

"The new digital cell phones used much higher power and operate at a different frequency," said Dr. Keith Ruskin, associate professor at Yale School of Medicine.

"The small risks of electromagnetic interference between mobile telephones and medical devices should be weighed against the potential benefits of improved communication."

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Ruskin recently reported the results of a study investigating whether cell phone use by medical personnel has an impact on patient safety, published in the February issue of the journal Anesthesia & Analgesia.

It was based on 4,018 survey responses from attendees at the 2003 meeting of the American Society of Anesthesiologists.

The study found that although their was a small rate (2.4 percent) of electronic interference with life support devices such as ventilators, intravenous infusion pumps, and monitoring equipment, that rate was much lower than the 14.9 percent risk of observed medical error or injury due to a delay in communication.

Of those anesthesiologists who participated in the survey, 65 percent reported using pagers as their primary mode of communications and 17 percent said they used cellular telephones.

Forty percent of respondents who use pagers reported delays in communications, compared to 31 percent of cellular telephone users.

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