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

h sophisticated technology.

This study took place in a simulated, one-bed intensive-care unit at the University of Amsterdam in the Netherlands. There were no patients involved, but there were 41 medical devices typically used in such a setting such as respirator machines, IV pumps, dialysis devices, defibrillators and external pacemaker devices.

Two radio frequency identification device systems, one active (with a battery and able to transmit information continuously) and one passive (powered by the electromagnetic field of the reader) were moved around the room while researchers assessed electromagnetic interference (EMI) on the medical devices.

In all, researchers conducted 123 EMI tests, and 34 EMI incidents were recorded: 22 were considered hazardous (for example, the turn-off of a mechanical ventilator or malfunction of external pacemakers), two as significant (an inaccurate blood pressure reading or alarm wrongly going off which might divert attention from the patient), and 10 as light ("snow" on the monitor, which didn't need attention).

The passive signal resulted in a higher number of total incidents (26 out of 41, or 63 percent), as well as more hazardous incidents (17).

All incidents occurred at a median distance of 11.8 inches between reader and device. For hazardous incidents, the median distance was 9.8 inches.

"This ought to teach us a lesson about technologies in medicine in general," Berwick said. "Anything new is going to introduce both good news and bad news. There will always be consequences. We have a love affair with technology, and that's a little bit dangerous if we're not keeping our eyes wide open. This is a good heads up."

More information

Visit the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services for more on health-care technology.



SOURCES: Donald M. Berwick,
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