It is well-known that mobile devices are a collection center for bacteria and viruses, but what is often forgotten is that these devices enter our healthcare facilities on a daily basis in the hands of nurses and doctors, and thus mobile devices have ample opportunity to spread the germs they have collected to vulnerable patients who may very well already have compromised immune systems. And with mobile devices being more accessible and vital to everyday life than ever before, this concern is greater now than ever before.
A Study of Healthcare Workers and Their Phones
So just how much should we worry about the cell phones that are entering today’s medical facilities on a daily basis? To get some insight, here are some details about a study that the Annals of Clinical Microbiology and Antimicrobials published back in 2009:
The study’s purpose was to determine the contamination rate of healthcare workers’ mobile phones and hands in operating rooms and intensive care units, and it was carried out by screening 200 healthcare workers’ hands and phones for bacteria. The results of the study concluded that 94.5% of phones cultured contained some sort of bacterial contamination with different types of bacteria, with 49% growing one bacterial species, 34% growing two different species, and 11.5% growing three or more. The study also found that some of the bacteria cultured on both hands and phones is known to cause nosocomial (or hospital-acquired) infections, such as staphylococci, non-fermentative gram negatives, coliforms, enterococci, and yeasts.
Another alarming result to come from the study is that the rate of routine cleaning of healthcare workers’ phones was only 10.5%, meaning that 89.5% of those participating in the study never clean their mobile phones.
The main concern here is that healthcare workers’ hands and phones were found contaminated not just with bacteria, but with nosocomial pathogens. The study raises questions here about what this might mean about electronics in medical facilities, because they comprise not only mobile phones but also personal digital assistants, handheld computers, bedside applications, and stationary phones.
Where to Go from Here
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), as many as one in 25 hospital patients will contract nosocomial infection during their stay. This fact has led teams of researchers like one at the University of Oregon to test the similarity in bacterial makeup between a person’s thumbs and index fingers and his or her mobile device. Their study found an 82% overlap in what types of bacteria were found on participants’ fingers and their phones, and according to the lead author of the study James Meadow, this means that “our favorite and most closely held possessions microbially resemble us.” This could, in fact, be good news when considering that screening mobile devices for bacteria could be a more efficient way of making large-scale surveys of potential bacterial infection in a medical facility, offering a greater potential for tracking healthcare worker exposure to nosocomial infection more quickly.
Regardless of whether your healthcare facility begins testing the phones of its healthcare workers, keep in mind that it’s always a good idea to sanitize your mobile phone on a regular basis.