Wireless devices used by nurses are unlikely to interfere with vital electronic medical equipment if staff stick to simple rules, concludes a new study.
Research by Concordia University in Canada found there was minimal risk of hand-held devices like tablets causing medical equipment to malfunction, providing staff stuck to “minimal separation distance” (MSD) guidelines specified by hospitals.
While hospitals often require staff and patients to switch off devices like mobile phones in certain areas, wireless technology is increasingly being used on a regular basis on the wards to access patient notes and record data.
A team from the Concordia’s engineering and science faculty used advanced mathematical modelling techniques to assess the risk of electromagnetic radiation from such technology interfering with equipment like heart monitors.
The study, published in the journal IEEE Transactions on Electromagnetic Compatibility, found MSD policies, which generally require devices to be kept more than a metre away from sensitive medical equipment, were effective.
“We found that MSD policy really does work,” said the study’s lead author Medhi Ardavan. “If hospital staff comply with the policy, they can have a tablet in the same room as the patient and medical equipment without posing a danger.”
Extending the MSD beyond a certain point did not necessarily increase safety, the researchers found.
However, they noted that if staff neglected to follow the rules then that could potentially cause problems.
“Hospitals need to be vigilant that staff members obey the MSD rule,” said senior study author Christopher Trueman, a professor in the university’s department of electrical and computer engineering.
“The nature of the problem is that there can never be zero risk, but by complying with MSD the risk can be reduced to a low enough value that it’s very unlikely there will be interference,” he added.