Cell Phones in Hospitals

Use of Cellular Telephones in the Hospital Environment is a report from the Mayo Clinic. The conclusion:

Interference of any type occurred in 0 of the 75 patient care rooms during the 300 tests performed. These 300 tests involved a total of 192 medical devices. The incidence of clinically important interference was 0% (95% confidence interval, 0%-4.8%).

Of course there are non-medical reasons — annoyance, for example — to not permit cell phones in hospitals. Personally I enjoy the “desert island” feel that comes from being forced to turn off my phone when entering the QEH.


Daniel Burka's picture
Daniel Burka on March 16, 2007 - 18:28 Permalink

You might enjoy the desert island feeling in the hospital Peter, but those who are live in that desert for prolonged periods don’t appreciate the novelty quite so much. Having spent months inside hospitals over the past year, the totally unscientific cell phone ban was very frustrating.

Patients cooped up and immobile in hospital rooms are put out of contact with those who they can share their lives with and who could help alleviate the tension and boredom of hospital life. A cell phone and the contacts it allows helps make the world feel more normal when everything else is in flux.

As some nurses are aware of such tests as the Mayo Clinic’s, one is occassionally permitted to use a cell phone but you’re encouraged to hide in a corner so no one can see. I’ve been shushed and given glares dozens of times for doing something completely safe. This isn’t just idle chatter, but arranging for things to happen, drives to arrive, and so on.

The only real solution to communication as it stands is to get a landline installed in the room. The telcos charge exhorbitant fees for this service and one must transmit the new temporary number to anyone and everyone who might want to call.

Peter Rukavina's picture
Peter Rukavina on March 16, 2007 - 18:49 Permalink

Point taken, Daniel.

I noticed that when I was in Halifax in February in the IWK Grace Health Centre there appeared to be no ban on cell phones at all, and I found they were in frequent use in the waiting rooms.

island_journalist's picture
island_journalist on March 19, 2007 - 05:23 Permalink

I’m just wondering you were using your cell phone? Was it in a private room as a patient/visitor or in a semi-private roomwhere other patients were trying to get rest, have some peace and quiet to optimize recovery and maintain some semblance of privacy, etc.; or in a waiting room?

I agree with cell phone use in waiting rooms for people waiting to see doctors and/or visit patients, and for the patients themselves in their rooms, but not for guests visiting patients in semi-private rooms. There is nothing, nothing more annoying than listening to a one-sided telephone conversation; and I don’t know if most people realize how loud their voices are when they are talking on the phone.

Personally, I think medical staff have known for years that cell phone usage does not interfere with medical equipment, they maintained the fallacy to try to maintain some semblance of quiet in hospitals where visiting hours are either round the clock or increasingly ignored. Add cell phones to the mix and you might as well be trying to recover in Grand Central Station.

islander away's picture
islander away on March 19, 2007 - 22:23 Permalink

I think that the consideration people take for the need to be quiet in a hospital environment will be heeded or not, regardless of having a cellphone. Some people are just loud and rude.

I was given a stern talking-to by a volunteer at a hospital for using my phone — I attempted to be polite and went out between a set of doors — it was a dark, freezing night, there was no one around, my mother was dying and I needed to contact a family member. If the only reason for having the rule is as a ruse to maintain a certain environment for patients, their families and staff, it kind of clouds the issue, especially if word gets out that the risk factor involved is little.

Why not simply make it a rule that talking on a cellphone isn’t allowed because it interferes with the quiet needed, but recognize that there are specific situations when the rule can be bent, slightly.

Is using a blackberry or text messaging allowed? No one seems to care about that — it’s quiet.

Jevon MacDonald's picture
Jevon MacDonald on March 20, 2007 - 12:08 Permalink

I am only really aware of how things work at the QEH in PEI, but is it normal that patients are charged such high fees for things like Cable and Phone service? It seems to me that it is unnecessary and unfair that a single company has full control over the phone service in the hospital, and another one has full control over the cable service.

If memory serves, they are both really expensive (10$, 20$ a day?) and I can still remember my mother paying for phone service for friends or others who couldn’t afford it. It didn’t seem rational that contact with the outside world is considered a 10$ a day luxury while trying to recover.

Put highspeed 100BT connections beside every bed with a router and a connection to the internet, then all sorts of providers could rent you a VOIP phone or TV for a fraction of what people pay now.

Kevin O'Brien's picture
Kevin O'Brien on March 21, 2007 - 18:31 Permalink

The week ISN was launching my appendix succumbed to my lifestyle and I spent the day in the emerg waiting room (I was refusing pain killers so my condition was thought to be not too serious and got bumped from surgery several times).

I asked if I was permitted to use my cell phone (I had a number of vital calls to take that day and really didn’t want to miss them). The nurse I asked was surprised by the question and so I explained that I had heard of cellular interference with hospital equipment. “Sir, we have the very best equipment at the QEH, your ~cell phone~ won’t hurt anything.”

The ~~ sarcasm lines are because I was convinced by her tone that she thought I was trying to say, “look, I’ve got a cell phone!”

Anyway, for years I really believed all this interference stuff, and for years I thought she was just uninformed, but perhaps she was right all along. (And yes, the Phonanistas will think I was loud and rude but my belly was hurting:)

Anyway, phones can be used in public spaces in descrete ways and should be permitted, je pense.

island_journalist's picture
island_journalist on March 21, 2007 - 19:15 Permalink

Does the hospital get any kickback from the phone and TV rentals? Will it affect their bottom line if the rentals are gone?

Will it cost more money to put in high-speed internet access and if so, who’ll pay for it?

Will the hospital need a tech staff to deal with patient internet problems/issues?

What about security issues with people’s computers/cell phones being stolen from rooms? (I think this is why they want you to bring minimal personal effects in with you).


Clarence Darrow says: You can only protect your liberties in this world by protecting the other man’s freedom. You can only be free if I am free.