Wireless communication devices do not appear to interfere with heart pacemakers or implantable cardioverter-defibrillators, according to a study conducted at the Mayo Clinic.

The findings are important because many hospitals have installed wireless local area networks (WLAN) so doctors and other health workers can use wireless devices to get quick access to electronic health records when they're treating patients. Many patients also use wireless communication devices.

The Concern

"When new devices are used near a patient with a life-sustaining implantable device, there is a potential of electromagnetic interference, and assessment of potential interactions is critical," says lead researcher Dr. David Hayes.

He and his colleagues tested the effect of an HP Compaq iPAQ Pocket PC Personal Digital Assistant (PDA) with a Cisco Aironet WLAN card on the cardiac devices, which were not implanted in a patient's body.

Hayes says a test of the effects of PDAs on the devices implanted in patients would be easy to design and conduct.

Such testing is necessary to provide definitive answers for individual patients. For example, a patient who is pacemaker-dependent may ask whether a specific WLAN device can be used and/or carried safely in a coat pocket when turned on near the patient's device," Hayes says.

Despite the increasing sophistication of pacemakers and cardioverter-defibrillators, wireless devices are also making great technological strides, Hayes says. "As technology advances, we’ll need continual testing to stay up-to-date.”

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