Do Personal Wireless Devices Interfere with Medical Equipment?

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Doctors are increasingly turning to electronic medical records as a way to always have complete patient history at their fingertips in hospitals. These digital versions of patient charts can help improve care by providing critical information such as past test results or flagging diseases such as diabetes. However, the electromagnetic radiation emitted by the tablets that doctors use to view this information (as well as personal devices that patients and visitors carry) can interfere with nearby electronic medical equipment. The resulting problems with medical equipment can have serious consequences for patients.

A Concordia University study published recently in IEEE Transactions on Electromagnetic Compatibility drilled down on whether wireless devices can endanger patients and presents a solution. The researchers combined existing methods for measuring EMI with a new mathematical model to account for the roaming nature of the transmitters, to account for the fact that hospital staff constantly moves around the hospital. It turns out that hospitals already have rules in place for designated minimum separation distance (MSD) that define how close wireless devices can be to medical equipment. Concordia’s research proved that the MSD rules are effective, and specifying larger distances does not necessarily increase safety.

So, why do some wireless devices still cause problems for medical equipment? It all comes down to non-compliance. The interference only occurs when hospital staff ignores the rules. In this case, stricter standard would not help. In fact, the researchers even suggested that the International Electrotechnical Committee’s standards for MSD were too conservative. The simple solution: more awareness and compliance among hospital staff and patients would prevent wireless devices from interfering with life-saving medical equipment.

Source: Concordia University | IEEE XPlore | Photo by NEC Corporation of America

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