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Do Cell Phones Spread Infections in Hospitals?

As doctors increasingly rely on Cell phones, tablets, and other personal communication or hand-held electronic equipment, policies to make sure the gizmos don’t spread infection or distract doctors from their work are slow in coming.

The wide spread use of mobile phones among medical personnel in hospitals is a matter of controversy. The question of concern is how to use the mobile phones sensibly, getting their benefits and minimizing their risks. In an emergency, surgeons can seek urgent help from their superiors and colleagues, call for an opinion from the biomedical or electrical staff in case of any mechanical or instrument failure in the middle of the surgery.

Moreover, the mobile phones are used routinely all day long and the same phones are used both inside and outside the hospital playing a possible role in spreading infections to the outside community.

Cell phones are now commonplace, whether it be the dinner table, the kitchen, a restaurant, the gym, or even the bathroom. These factors and the heat generated by cellphones contribute to harboring bacteria on the device at alarming levels. When we consider a cellphone's daily contact with the face, mouth, ears, and hands, the dire health risks of using germ-infested mobile devices are obvious.

Unlike our hands, which are easily sterilized using hand sanitizers made available readily across all hospitals and medical facilities, our mobile phones are cumbersome to clean. Even we rarely make an effort to sanitize them. As a result, these devices carry a variety of bacteria. Cellphones are used often in hospitals by patients, visitors, and health care workers.

Use of mobile phones by Health Care Workers (HCWs) in the operation theatre (OT), Intensive Care Unit (ICU) and Critical Care Unit (CCU) may have serious hygiene consequences as these patients are more vulnerable to hospital acquired infection.

Why Is the Doctor on the Phone? If mobile devices are a plausible source of infection, why do doctors use them? Because mobile phones have largely replaced pagers, doctors need to have some sort of access to them. But there are currently no national rules covering the use of mobile devices in hospitals, even in operating rooms (ORs). Some hospitals require doctors to consult via phone, rather than text message, to limit miscommunication.

Mobile phones bring a constellation of new challenges into healthcare, just as they bring a slew of new tools. Nurses and doctors might show a patient some lab results on an iPad, then touch the device later in the day without washing it first. They might also touch their phone before or after washing their hands between patients.

Hospital visitors can also contribute to the problem. They may have a friend or loved one in intensive care scroll through photos on a phone or tablet. When they leave the hospital, they may carry multiple-resistant staph bacteria on their touchscreen. Patients and doctors alike should be educated by clear guidelines and advised on inpatient mobile phone etiquette, regular cleaning of phones and hand hygiene.

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