Ease cell-phone curbs, panel to urge hospitals in Japan

A council has come up with a new set of guidelines that would allow mobile phone use in medical institutions under certain conditions. It is the first time in 17 years that such guidelines have been reviewed.

The Electromagnetic Compatibility Conference Japan, chaired by Kami Yoshio, emeritus professor of the University of Electro-Communications, decided mobile phone usage in line with their latest enhanced functions.

Under the new guidelines, a distance of about one meter is required between a cell phone and medical equipment that could be affected by cellular signals, with each section of a medical institutions having separate restrictions.

For instance, mobile phones must be switched off in operating theatres and examination rooms at present, but they can be left on in doctors' offices. In wards and corridors, phone calls will be allowed. However, certain functions such as audio and video recording will be prohibited, in principle, to protect personal information and prevent medical data leaks.

Though medical institutions are not required to follow the guidelines, the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry will promote them. Medical institutions can review and adjust their rules on a voluntary basis.

The council comprises officials from the health ministry, the Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry, mobile phone companies and medical equipment makers.

Existing guidelines were laid down in 1997 over fears that signals could cause medical equipment to malfunction.

Many hospitals have drawn up and implemented rules based on the guidelines, meaning mobile use has typically been restricted to certain areas such as waiting rooms.

But the latest cellular technology has extended the range of mobile phone signals at lower intensities, which has less of an impact on medical devices. Medical equipment also has become more resistant to interference from such signals.Speech