The McGill University Health Center is lifting its ban on cell phones in most of the hospital environment. At Geneva’s University hospital (HUG), not only are cell phones allowed throughout most of the hospital, but Wi-Fi is available in patients’ rooms, including at the children’s hospital. The staff have not connected the dots to cell phones and Wi-Fi emitting damaging electromagnetic waves that WHO has labeled “possibly cancer-causing.” When my companion, Adon, was recovering from surgical removal of his lung in a seven-bed room at HUG, the person in the bed next to him was using his computer all day long. Adon’s surgical incisions would not heal. One month after the lung removal, he had to undergo a second major operation when the incisions came apart. He almost died during surgery. He lived three more months, dying of mesothelioma from exposure to asbestos.
MUHC lifts cellphone ban in most of its hospital environment
by Aaron Derfel, Montreal Gazette, 31 October 2012
It’s a nuisance that nearly everyone who steps into a hospital has to contend with: turning off one’s smartphone or risk being tapped on the shoulder by a security guard.
Want to snap a picture from an iPhone of a friend’s newborn in the birthing centre? A no-no. Feel an urgent need to call a family member from an Android-powered phone in a patient’s room? Verboten!
But now, the McGill University Health Centre has become the first hospital network in Quebec to lift the cellphone ban. As of Thursday, people who stroll through most parts of the MUHC will be allowed to talk on their mobile devices, to text messages and even to take pictures — albeit, in the latter case, only with the permission of hospital staff.
For years, hospitals have prohibited cellphone use for fear that the electromagnetic signals from the devices would interfere with medical equipment. However, an internal two-year review found that although the devices can play havoc with some machines — such as pacemaker programmers and ventilators — they’re safe enough to use nearly everywhere in the hospital environment.
The MUHC has phased in the new policy in the past two weeks to the delight of nurses and patients. And the hospital network is launching free Wi-Fi service, encouraging patients to connect to the mobile network with their smartphones, laptops and iPads.
Sabrina Jeans, a nurse in charge of the oncology-hematology ward on the 17th floor of the Montreal General Hospital, said the new policy is long overdue.
“Previously, nurses had to page doctors whenever they had to discuss an issue with a patient,” Jeans said. “Now, we can text or email a doctor, and they respond much quicker, especially if they’re in meetings or in a teaching session.”
Patients are glad to use their smartphones, too, often in innovative ways.
“I had a patient whose leg was amputated and she was keeping track of her wound by taking pictures of it,” Jeans recounted. “The woman found it very useful to take those pictures.”
Farès Abi-Saleh, his Blackberry turned on next to him on a table, was working on his laptop in a conference room on the 17th floor of the MGH on Wednesday. Since June, Abi-Saleh has been virtually living in the hospital to be by the side of his wife, who is suffering from the terminal stages of leukemia.
On Saturday, Abi-Saleh and his son Alexandre gazed in astonishment through a window in their mother’s room at the sight of a double rainbow shining above the downtown skyscrapers. Alexandre took a panoramic picture of it from his iPhone, had the image printed, blown up as a wall mural and hung it at the foot of his mother’s bed.
“It’s much easier for me to stay here in the hospital knowing that I can use my phone to communicate with the employees at my store,” Abi-Saleh said.
In preparation for the new policy, the MUHC installed antennae throughout its hospitals to reduce cellphone signals. Yellow posters have been taped to walls in areas where smartphones can be used with certain limitations (one must switch the ringtone to vibrate mode and talk quietly), while red posters are found in the operating room, intensive-care unit and other parts where mobile devices are still banned.
Nevertheless, cellphones can be used in all patient rooms, corridors, the lobby, the birthing centre at the Royal Victoria Hospital and nearly every hospital department.
Ian Popple, a spokesperson for the MUHC, explained that the new policy embraces the reality of smartphones, especially in an era of wireless medical equipment, while respecting patient privacy — hence, the requirement to ask for permission to take pictures.
Other hospitals are considering following the MUHC’s lead, including the Centre hospitalier de l’université de Montréal, said Martin Fiset, an MUHC consultant who helped implement the new policy.
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