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Radio-Wave Devices May Play Havoc With Medical Equipment
Date:6/24/2008

In lab setting, they caused some machines to turn off, others to malfunction

TUESDAY, June 24 (HealthDay News) -- Those magic little devices that allow you to enter your hotel room or pay a toll electronically could interfere with the operation of critical medical equipment in a hospital.

In a laboratory setting not involving actual patients, Dutch scientists found that the radio frequency identification devices -- which are increasingly used in medicine -- caused potentially hazardous problems with some medical tools.

The findings were published in the June 25 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

However, the scope of the danger is not yet clear.

"This leaves us concerned, [but] we have to see if this pans out in a real intensive care unit," said Dr. Donald M. Berwick, president and CEO of the Institute for Healthcare Improvement in Cambridge, Mass., and author of an accompanying editorial. "These [devices] are brought in for a reason, and are doing things for the good. Just to shut them down would be overreacting. Let's get serious about finding out whether this is a replicable finding, and if it occurs in the presence of real patients. I believe food and drug administrations and manufacturers have a duty to investigate, and I'd say urgently."

The use of these devices is increasing in medical settings. For example, in respirators or IV pumps they help locate and keep track of inventory; they could also be used in drug blister packs to prevent counterfeiting or to ensure the quality of blood products.

"They're so tiny now that they can be put in surgical gauze pads, so at the end of the operation, the nurse can count up all pads and notice if one is missing and might have been left in the patient," Berwick said. "There are all sorts of applications in hospitals, and the devices are proliferating."

But there might be a dangerous downside to suc
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