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A decade + ago, I've been told that cell phones disrupt the medical devices in medical facilities, especially in the ER; thus, cell phones have been prohibited from the ER or other designated areas where a cell phone's signal would interrupt with the medical equipment's' signals. (Similar to how we used to shut down -- or airplane mode -- our cellular devices while on an airplane). Do cell phones cause a significant degree of disruption with the medical equipment's' ability to function properly? Are they still prohibited from the ER?

I don't know if policy has changed, research has changed, human behavior has changed, or technologies changed, or a combo, or all of the above, but I have seen a dime a dozen of people brazenly using their cell phones in the ER in a close proximity to medical equipment. Are they no longer prohibited? Why or why not?

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Cairo University's Journal of Advanced Research (PDF) looks at all of the studies on ElectroMagnetic Interferene (EMI) from mobile cellular phones and medical equipment.

It says that based on the literature, it was realized that during the initial development of cellular phones, the 2G cellular phones had caused more interference in the functioning of some medical devices. This has been observed because the medical devices were not originally designed to interact with cell phones on their first come on the scene.

By instant, it is the same way that the aircraft was not originally planned that passengers might use an RF emitting equipment onboard.

It also says that at present, the situation may be the similar in some developing countries, but elsewhere, the situation has changed a lot, and the current medical devices are designed to operate safely under any conditions of usage.

The UK Government also says

We do not recommend a ban on the use of mobile phones in hospitals. However, a mobile phone can affect sensitive equipment if it is closer than 1 metre.

Therefore we recommend that hospitals/trusts develop local policies to minimise the risk of interference in places such as:

  • treatment areas such as:
    • intensive therapy units (ITU)
    • special care baby units (SCBU)
    • operating theatres
    • accident and emergency departments
  • by the patient’s bedside when the patient is connected to any electro-medical device
  • other areas where interference with a device could have a detrimental effect on patients

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