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Myth Buster: Is Using a Cellphone Dangerous Inside Hospitals?

Myth: Cellphones cause major interference inside hospitals.

Facts: "Cellphones caused more interference with medical devices early on, about eight years ago," says Jeff Tri, M.D., of the information technology department at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. "But changes in medical devices and cellphone technology have mitigated these interferences."

Tri conducted three cellphone studies in hospitals, including intensive care units. In his first study in 2000, he found that the original 600-milliwatt cellphones had the power to turn off patients' ventilators. However, in the Mayo Clinic's most recent studies, conducted in 2006, Tri found cellphones caused no interference with medical equipment.

Why? Today's cells exert less than a third of the power of their predecessors.

Tri says he thinks cellphone usage should be allowed in all areas of the hospital except for surgery, pediatric, neonatal and intensive care units, which have not specifically been tested recently for cellphone interference.

Cellphones can even save lives in hospitals, says Rachel Vreeman, M.D., assistant professor of pediatrics and children's health services research at the Indiana University School of Medicine. She cites a 2006 study published in a medical journal that says doctors who use cellphones report faster and improved communication, which can help reduce the risk of medical errors or injuries to patients, especially in critical situations.

Take note: Users must still follow any cellphone restrictions posted by a hospital. But Vreeman says she would encourage hospital administrators to reconsider cellphone restrictions in the near future, especially bans that cover the entire hospital.

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