Cell phones on hospital units - OK or no way?

Thursday, February 26, 2015 - 10:34am

By Margaret Angus

With 83 per cent* of Canadian households owning cell phones, their prevalence in public places — including hospitals — is no surprise.

However, some hospital units still advise visitors to turn off cell phones or mobile devices. It may seem like hospitals are the last hold-outs in a world turned mobile, but Capital Health’s biomedical engineers say caution is still required.

“The scientific data that forms the basis of our cell phone policy is still valid,” says Michael Barton, manager of Capital Health’s Biomedical Engineering Department. “The distance required between most cell phones and medical devices is one metre, although some devices are more sensitive and require a greater distance.”

If a unit has particularly sensitive medical equipment or space is very limited, the whole area is designated as being cell phone-free, rather than taking the risk of interference with equipment, says Barton.

In addition to protecting sensitive medical equipment, a unit could have cell phone restrictions in place to prevent the use of camera phones in patient care areas, which puts patient confidentiality at risk.

For these reasons, patients and visitors to hospitals or health centres may notice that cell phones and mobile devices are banned in one area of hospital, but allowed in others.

So, the takeaway? If there are signs asking you not to use your cell phone or mobile device in a particular space or if a staff member makes this request of you, please respect this instruction, knowing it is to protect patient safety.

Otherwise, if it is not causing disruption to others around you, feel free to make that call.

*Statistics Canada, Residential Telephone Service Survey 2014