Using cell phones in hospitals reduces the error rate in medical care because of more timely communication and rarely causes electronic magnetic interference, according to Yale School of Medicine researchers.

The study published in February's Anesthesia & Analgesia is believed to be the first to investigate whether use of cell phones by medical personnel has a beneficial impact on safety. It was based on 4,018 responses from attendees at the 2003 meeting of the American Society of Anesthesiologists.

Of those anesthesiologists who participated in the survey, 65 percent reported using pagers as their primary mode of communications and 17 percent said they used cell phones. Forty percent of respondents who use pagers reported delays in communications, compared to 31 percent of cellular telephone users.

The senior author, Keith Ruskin, M.D., associate professor in the Departments of Anesthesiology and Neurosurgery, said the electronic interference from cell phones was a problem in the past because of older telemetry equipment and analog cell phones.

"The new digital cell phones use much higher power and operate at a different frequency," Ruskin said. "The small risks of electromagnetic interference between mobile telephones and medical devices should be weighed against the potential benefits of improved communication."

He said the reported 2.4 percent prevalence of electronic interference with life support devices such as ventilators, intravenous infusion pumps, and monitoring equipment is much lower than the 14.9 percent risk of observed medical error or injury due to a delay in communication.