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Medical Facilities Ban Cell Phones
Wausau Daily Herald
Journalist: Amy E. Brown
December 10, 2002

Marshfield Clinic and Saint Joseph's Hospital officials want people to turn off their cell phones when they're visiting.

A Mayo Clinic study found that 42 percent of the 17 medical devices tested had some interference from cell phones, with 7.4 percent of the situations considered serious.

Scarborough Research, a national consumer organization, estimates that two-thirds of U.S. adults own a cell phone, with about 186 million of the phones in use.

Despite the phones' popularity, administrators at the Marshfield medical facilities have had a cell phone ban in place, and they're more strictly enforcing it in light of increasing cases of life-threatening damage caused by the electronic devices across the nation.

The ban extends to all staff members, including doctors, who are told to turn off their phones as soon as they walk into the buildings. Community Health Care Wausau Hospital also bans cell phones in many of its patient care areas.

If people violate the rule, there can be serious health consequences, administrators warn.

"We live in an electronic age now, and some actions may interfere with the care given to patients and could affect their own health," said Bruce Cunha, Marshfield Clinic Employee Health and Safety Department manager.

Electronic devices - cell phones and laptop computers, for example - emit electromagnetic radiation that can cause serious malfunctions in machines such as ventilators, intravenous pumps, external pacemakers and monitors, said Bill Rice, a clinical engineer with Saint Joseph's Hospital.

There have been some highly publicized cases. In New York, a mother walked into a hospital room where her baby was receiving medicine from a medicine pump. Her cell phone apparently interfered with the pump's computer and delivered a high dose of medication. The baby survived.

New equipment has better technology so interference is less of a problem. But Rice said the hospital's and clinic's main concern is older machinery.

The medical facilities have posted signs in many areas, including surgery, cardiology, radiology, gastrointestinal laboratory, peripheral vascular laboratory, and clinical and research laboratories.

"Our focus is to keep our electromagnetic environment as clean as possible," Rice said. "We don't mean to eliminate all of these devices. We certainly can't do that, but we can try to minimize the amount of power at certain frequencies known to cause problems with device operation."

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