Hospitals urged to ease mobile phone rules

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LONDON (Reuters), Oct 16 - Patients and medical staff should be allowed to use mobile phones more freely in hospitals because the benefits outweigh the risks, researchers said on Friday.

There is no evidence that using them has serious consequences for patients, according to Stuart Derbyshire, a senior lecturer in psychology at the University of Birmingham, and Adam Burgess, senior lecturer in sociology at the University of Kent.

Writing in the British Medical Journal, they said restrictions were likely to become even tighter, with a Department of Health recommendation that camera-phones should not be allowed in patient areas, to protect privacy.

The biggest concern is that mobiles interfere with sensitive medical equipment.

But a 1997 study from the U.K.'s Medical Devices Agency showed that phones affected just 4% of devices at a distance of one meter, the researchers said.

Phones could adversely affect pacemakers "but only when the patient holds their phone against the chest rather than the ear, and the effects stop once the phone is removed," the authors said.

In general, the interference was merely an irritation and ultimately harmless to the patient, they added.

"Sensible caution regarding the proximity of mobile phones to medical equipment is thus warranted, but concerns about patient safety alone do not justify zealously enforced no-phone areas, which can cause arguments between staff, patients, and visitors."

Phones may also be annoying, but no more so than televisions or stereos, they said.

"Doctors and pharmacists would benefit from using mobile phones rather than pagers, and many patients in hospital would welcome the opportunity to relieve their isolation without resorting to expensive hospital phones that are cumbersome to use," the researchers said.

Last Updated: 2006-10-13 16:11:23 -0400 (Reuters Health)

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