Intended for healthcare professionals

Student Education

Using mobile phones in hospitals: what's the worst that could happen?

BMJ 2003; 326 doi: (Published 01 March 2003) Cite this as: BMJ 2003;326:030352
  1. Layla McCay, fourth year medical student1,
  2. Andy Smith, principle medical device specialist2
  1. 1University of Glasgow
  2. 2Medical Devices Agency, London, SE1 6TQ

Layla McCay and Andy Smith look at the evidence for the potential dangers of using mobile phones in hospitals and discuss whether banning mobiles in hospitals is reasonable

Most of us have had an unintentional but incriminating rendition of Old MacDonald had a Farm announcing itself from the bottom of our bag. Irritating ring tones may draw glares in any public place, but nowhere is mobile phone use more likely to cause offence than in a hospital.

“Officially wrong”

Everybody has the vague notion that using mobile phones in hospitals is “officially wrong.” At some time, however, most of us forget to turn our phones off. By sending that all important text message are we really endangering the lives of patients? In a world of evidence based medicine, it would be nice to rely on more than hearsay for the answer. Guilt has inspired my quest for the truth.


Mobile phones that are electromagnetically incompatible with medical equipment may cause problems. Mobiles emit radiation that can cause nearby electrical equipment to become a radio receiver and mobiles can interact with radio transmitters. These interactions can interfere with the functioning of the equipment.1 You may have noticed that when your mobile phone rings near a computer it …

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