Mobile devices won't kill you

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This article appeared in the September issue of CRN magazine.

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Mobile devices won't kill you

I had occasion recently to be sitting in a hospital waiting room while a relative was examined in the ER after an accident.

As said relative has some fairly recent interaction with the medical profession, there were other relatives who wanted to be kept up to date with what was going on. Most of them could be notified en masse by the simple expedient of a Facebook update.

Others, of the “get off my lawn you whippersnapper” generation, needed to be told by telephone.

Imagine, if you will, the shock on the faces of my fellow room-waiters, as I spoke into the magical rectangular prism in my hand, projecting my voice across vast distances and into the ears of people they could not even see.

Unfortunately, rather than worshipping me as a god, as I hoped they might, instead I was instructed in no uncertain terms that using a mobile telephone in a hospital was among the worst crimes known to humankind. I may as well be a murderer.

This, of course, is nonsense. It’s based on the mistaken belief that the electro-magnetic field (EMF) generated around a mobile phone will interfere with medical equipment in the vicinity, with disastrous consequences, and that therefore it must be prohibited.

While it is true phones do produce EMF, the fact is most everything in a hospital does, and that the majority of hospital instruments are pretty well shielded against it. Even those that aren’t, or that can’t be, are relatively immune to interference unless you’re within a metre or so.

What’s more, the vast majority of equipment that can be subject to interference is diagnostic.

So if you interfere with it by resting your iPhone on it and playing a multiplayer round of Infinity Blade II, the worst that will happen is a few dodgy blips. You won’t accidentally administer anyone a dose of morphine by tweeting about it. I promise.

Anyone who has driven along the Pacific Highway through St Leonards in Sydney knows that The Royal North Shore Hospital is located right next to a huge transmission tower for the ABC, which produces a massive amount of electro-magnetic radiation – enough to make your car radio go crazy just by passing it. You reckon your little old phone is a problem?

Last year I had frequent occasion to spend time in the neurological intensive care unit of one of Australia’s biggest hospitals. There, I often saw doctors and nurses using phones and tablet computers to talk with colleagues and to share documents and photographs with others who weren’t present. 

As you can imagine, there’s quite a lot of stuff in a neuro ICU that goes bing and bip and blinks with the lights and the whooshing and so forth. These doctors and nurses were not worried that using their high-tech devices would endanger anyone.

Fact: the advantages for diagnosis and treatment that the use of mobile devices can facilitate vastly outweigh the annoyance of a miscellaneous blip on a graph here and there. Perpetuating the myth that mobile phones must be verboten in hospitals is counterproductive and more harmful than phones can possibly be.

So if you see me in a hospital waiting room chatting on my phone, feel free to tell me to shut up if I’m annoying you, but trust me – I’m not hurting anyone.

Copyright © CRN Australia. All rights reserved.

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