The controversy continues over whether to permit cell phones and other wireless communication devices to be used in hospitals. It's well known that wireless devices emit radio-frequency signals that can cause interference when used in close proximity to medical equipment. But is the risk of interference manageable? Should hospitals allow use of these devices by staff and possibly by members of the public (particularly now that so many people carry a cell phone or some other wireless device)? In October 1999, we recommended that hospitals permit the limited use of cell phones by patients and visitors but restrict the use of walkie-talkies to necessary staff members only. These recommendations still hold. In fact, many of the newer wireless devices--such as wireless personal data assistants, two-way pagers, and family radio service walkie-talkies--operate similarly to a cell phone or a walkie-talkie. Therefore, our recommendations cover them as well. In this Guidance Article, we discuss the reasons for our recommendations. In addition, because we know some hospitals are wrestling with these issues, we provide some useful suggestions for creating and implementing a realistic, effective policy covering the use of wireless technologies in the hospital.
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