Letters Mobile phones: unhelpful apps

Doctors taking a pulse using their mobile phone can spread MRSA

BMJ 2012; 344 doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.e412 (Published 17 January 2012) Cite this as: BMJ 2012;344:e412
  1. Thomas C Morris, infectious diseases registrar1,
  2. Luke S P Moore, infectious diseases registrar1,
  3. Sunil Shaunak, professor of infectious diseases1
  1. 1Department of Infectious Diseases, Imperial College London, Hammersmith Hospital, London W12 0NN, UK
  1. s.shaunak{at}imperial.ac.uk

We undertook a one day survey of bacterial contamination of doctors’ fingertips before and after using their mobile phone to take a patient’s pulse.1 Mobile phones are known to act as a reservoir for bacteria,2 3 but their role in onward transmission of bacteria has not been adequately analysed. We enrolled 20 doctors of all grades and asked them to clean their hands with alcohol gel. When their hands were dry they applied their fingertips to an agar plate. They then took a radial pulse using their usual timepiece—phone or watch kept in pocket or handbag or attached to clothing. They then applied their fingertips to a second agar plate and all plates were incubated for 24 hours.

The mean bacterial colony counts increased from 34 to 47 per plate after use of a timepiece, and the number of plates containing Staphylococcus aureus increased from two to five. Three of the five plates grew meticillin resistant S aureus (MRSA) and all three positive plates were from doctors who used a mobile phone.

Thus the use of mobile phones to take a pulse or respiratory rate, a trend that is increasing with the removal of wristwatches from clinical areas,4 5 could help spread nosocomial pathogens across hospital wards. A clinical procedure carried out at the start of the examination could be undoing the benefits of alcohol gel based hand cleaning. At a time when mobile phone based applications are being rapidly introduced into clinical areas to improve information flow, we should be aware of their propensity to spread MRSA between patients.


Cite this as: BMJ 2012;344:e412


  • Competing interests: None declared.