Mobile phone technology and hospitalized patients: a cross-sectional surveillance study of bacterial colonization, and patient opinions and behaviours


Corresponding author: R. R. Brady, Department of Surgery, Western General Hospital, Crewe Rd, Edinburgh, Scotland EH4 2XU, UK


Clin Microbiol Infect 2011; 17: 830–835


Healthcare workers’ mobile phones provide a reservoir of bacteria known to cause nosocomial infections. UK National Health Service restrictions on the utilization of mobile phones within hospitals have been relaxed; however, utilization of these devices by inpatients and the risk of cross-contamination are currently unknown. Here, we examine demographics and characteristics of mobile phone utilization by inpatients and phone surface microbial contamination. One hundred and two out of 145 (70.3%) inpatients who completed a questionnaire detailing their opinions and utilization of mobile phones, also provided their mobile phones for bacteriological analysis and comparative bacteriological swabs from their nasal cavities; 92.4% of patients support utilization of mobile phones by inpatients; indeed, 24.5% of patients stated that mobile phones were vital to their inpatient stay. Patients in younger age categories were more likely to possess a mobile phone both inside and outside hospital (p <0.01) but there was no gender association. Eighty-six out of 102 (84.3%) patients’ mobile phone swabs were positive for microbial contamination. Twelve (11.8%) phones grew bacteria known to cause nosocomial infection. Seven (6.9%) phones and 32 (31.4%) nasal swabs demonstrated Staphylococcus aureus contamination. MSSA/MRSA contamination of phones was associated with concomitant nasal colonization. Patient utilization of mobile phones in the clinical setting is popular and common; however, we recommend that patients are educated by clear guidelines and advice on inpatient mobile phone etiquette, power charging safety, regular cleaning of phones and hand hygiene, and advised not to share phones or related equipment with other inpatients in order to prevent transmission of bacteria.