Leading Research to Understand Magnetic Interference Between Medical Devices and Consumer Electronics

Dr. Jay Sengupta, electrophysiologist and researcher at MHIF

August 24, 2021

Research into device performance and safety is as important as ever in a world where technology advances take place constantly across all areas of consumer electronics.

Minneapolis Heart Institute Foundation (MHIF) has a team of researchers who have long been committed to efforts to track and understand device performance and safety. Much of this work is done through supportive partnership and collaboration with leading manufacturers of cardiovascular medical devices.

A recent example has been around for years as it relates to the issue of electromagnetic interference that is common in cellphone technology. MHIF researchers have a number of publications and studies related to this area of research, which is led by physicians focused on electrophysiology and heart rhythm issues. 

Patients with arrhythmia or abnormal heart rhythms often receive medical devices like pacemakers and implantable cardioverter defibrillators (ICDs) that are standard of care treatments.

Patients who receive pacemakers and ICDs are instructed to make sure they do not expose their devices in close proximity to magnets or magnetic fields. These medical devices contain switches that are controlled by magnets so that physicians can deactivate or turn them off during surgery, scans or other medical procedures.

In terms of understanding the risks for interference, MHIF pursues research naturally as part of the strong commitment to world-class cardiovascular research and education. The need for the research is also evident as the physicians see patients every day in the clinic.

As captured in a recent interview with the Star Tribune, Dr. Jay Sengupta, electrophysiologist and researcher, Minneapolis Heart Institute Foundation:

“We have received numerous calls from patients, because they are quite aware of these reports,” said Dr. Sengupta.

The Star Tribune article focuses on research that found an iPhone 12 temporarily deactivated a defibrillator when held to a patient’s skin just above the implant. While the risk of this happening unintentionally is low, ongoing research is important to understand the risk and ensure guidance for patients to follow. The new iPhone 12 has received a lot of attention lately related to this issue because of a circular array of powerful magnets used with the new wireless charging pads and accessories.

As stated in the Star Tribune article, “Dr. Sengupta said he agrees with Apple and device makers like Medtronic, who say heart-device patients can safely use an iPhone 12 as long as they follow the guidance to keep it 6 inches from the implanted device — guidance that applies to all consumer electronics with magnets. Cardiac patients are routinely told not to put cellphones of any model in a shirt breast pocket on the same side of the body as the implant, Dr. Sengupta said. They’re also advised to hold cellphones to the ear on the other side of the body and to avoid putting other magnet-containing devices such as headphones and trackers with magnetic-clasp bands near their implant.”

Read the full Star Tribune article here.

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