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