Intended for healthcare professionals

Rapid response to:

Editorials

Use of mobile phones in hospitals

BMJ 2006; 333 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.38995.599769.80 (Published 12 October 2006) Cite this as: BMJ 2006;333:767

Rapid Response:

Dial M for MRSA

The basic requirements expected of such an editorial are that an
accurate and up to date review of the new research be regarded and
evaluated. Not only have the authors decided not to review the recent
publication of a mortality in a child (1) attributed to mobile phone
interference, but have also failed to mention the other major problem of
medical mobile phone devices – namely that of infection control, ethics
and legal issues.

As the authors realise “patients, visitors and staff routinely breeze
through the wards with their mobile phones switched on”. Several recent
studies have now been published remarking on the high bacterial
contamination levels of doctors’ mobile phones, including MRSA, and the
current high usage in hospitals at present (2-3). Doctors do not regularly
clean their phones and a majority have never cleaned their phones. A
majority currently bring their phones to work everyday and a large
proportion use their phone at work every day (3).

There is increasing evidence of doctors who have fallen foul of local
authorities for inappropriate or unethical use of mobile phones. These
events have led to governmental policy change and severe disciplinary
action in some cases. It is these issues which concern those developing
policy in the UK.

Derbyshire and Burgess’s editorial is disappointing in the limited
evidence that they have chosen to comment on, ignoring the larger global
and national events, including legal, ethical and disciplinary issues,
shaping mobile usage in hospitals across the globe. Their dismissal of the
risks as “mythical” reflects the depth of investigative debate in this
short editorial. Requesting a relaxation of possible restrictions, which
as demonstrated, in reality, are widely ignored in hospitals across the
UK, is to address the gate, years after this horse has bolted and does
little to further inform the ongoing real issues for medial staff.

It is past time for the arguments on this subject to modernise,
mature and progress beyond that of EMI (Electro-magnetic Interference).
The issue requires a thorough assessment, addressing infection control,
ethical and confidentiality issues and clear advice needs to be provided
to health-care staff to prevent complications in the future. The cursory
synopsis supplied by the authors is unfortunately little more than a
limited critique of the important issues being addressed the MHRA and does
not reflect the emerging problems for clinical health care staff.

1. Hahn IH, Schnadower D, Dakin RJ, Nelson LS. Cellular phone
interference as a cause of acute epinephrine poisoning. Ann Emerg Med
2005;46:298-9.
2. Borer A, Gilad J, Smolyakov R, Eskira S, Peled N, Porat N, Hyam E,
Trefler R, Riesenberg K, Schlaeffer F. Cell phones and Acinetobacter
transmission. Emerg Infect Dis. 2005 Jul;11(7):1160-1.
3. Brady RR, Wasson A, Stirling I, McAllister C, Damani NN. Is your phone
bugged? The incidence of bacteria known to cause nosocomial infection on
healthcare workers' mobile phones. J Hosp Infect. 2006 Jan;62(1):123-5.

Competing interests:
I am the author of one of the studies referenced in the rapid response

Competing interests: No competing interests

14 October 2006
Richard R Brady
Research fellow
Edinburgh