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Research Christmas 2010: The Lives of Doctors

Phantom vibration syndrome among medical staff: a cross sectional survey

BMJ 2010; 341 doi: (Published 15 December 2010) Cite this as: BMJ 2010;341:c6914
  1. Michael B Rothberg, clinician investigator,
  2. Ashish Arora, critical care fellow,
  3. Jodie Hermann, medical resident,
  4. Reva Kleppel, research assistant,
  5. Peter St Marie, statistical intern,
  6. Paul Visintainer, director of epidemiology and biostatistics
  1. 1Division of General Medicine, Baystate Medical Center, Springfield, MA, and Tufts University School of Medicine, Boston, MA, USA
  1. Correspondence to: M B Rothberg, Division of General Medicine and Geriatrics, Baystate Medical Center, 759 Chestnut Street, Springfield, MA 01199, USA Michael.Rothberg{at}
  • Accepted 24 November 2010


Objective To describe the prevalence of and risk factors for experiencing “phantom vibrations,” the sensory hallucination sometimes experienced by people carrying pagers or cell phones when the device is not vibrating.

Design Cross sectional survey.

Setting Academic medical centre.

Participants 176 medical staff who responded to questionnaire (76% of the 232 people invited).

Measurements Electronic survey consisting of 17 questions about demographics, device use, phantom vibrations experienced, and attempts to stop them.

Results Of the 169 participants who answered the question, 115 (68%, 95% confidence interval 61% to 75%) reported having experienced phantom vibrations. Most (68/112) who experienced phantom vibrations did so after carrying the device between 1 month and 1 year, and 13% experienced them daily. Four factors were independently associated with phantom vibrations: occupation (resident v attending physician, prevalence ratio 1.47, 95% confidence interval 1.10 to 1.97), device location (breast pocket v belt, prevalence ratio 1.66, 1.29 to 2.14), hours carried (per 6 hour increment, prevalence ratio 1.30, 1.07 to 1.58), and more frequent use in vibrate mode (per frequency category, prevalence ratio 1.18, 1.03 to 1.34). Of those who experienced phantom vibrations, 43 (39%, 30% to 48%) were able to stop them. Strategies for stopping phantom vibrations included taking the device off vibrate mode, changing the location of the device, and using a different device (success rates 75% v 63% v 50%, respectively, P=0.217). However, 39% (30% to 49%) of respondents did not attempt any strategies.

Conclusions Phantom vibration syndrome is common among those who use electronic devices.


  • The study was conducted with the goodwill of the participants and investigators.

  • Funding: None.

  • Competing interests: All authors have completed the Unified Competing Interest form at (available on request from the corresponding author) and declare: no support from any organisation for the submitted work; no financial relationships with any organisations that might have an interest in the submitted work in the previous three years, no other relationships or activities that could appear to have influenced the submitted work.

  • Ethical approval: Consent was not obtained but the presented data are anonymised and risk of identification is low.

  • Data sharing: Complete survey and dataset available from MBR at

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