A group of doctors from AIIMS, Raipur have recommended restrictions on the use of mobile phones in healthcare institutions amid the COVID-19 pandemic, warning that such devices can be a potential carrier of the virus and lead to infection among healthcare workers.
In a commentary published in the BMJ Global Health journal, the doctors stated that mobile phone surfaces are a peculiar ''high-risk'' surface, which can directly come in contact with the face or mouth, even if hands are properly washed and one study indicates that some healthcare workers use phones every 15 minutes to two hours.
Though there have been many significant guidelines from various health organisations like WHO and CDC focusing on prevention and control of disease, the commentary highlighted "there is no mention of or focus on mobile phones in these guidelines, including the WHO infection control and prevention guidelines, which recommends the use of handwashing".
In healthcare facilities, phones are used to communicate with other health care workers, look up recent medical guidelines, research drug interactions, understand adverse events and side effects, conduct telemedicine appointments and track patients among others, stated the document.
The document has been authored by Dr Vineet Kumar Pathak, Dr Sunil Kumar Panigrahi, Dr M Mohan Kumar, Dr Utsav Raj and Dr Karpaga Priya P from the Department of Community and Family Medicine.
"In their tendency to come in direct contact with the face, nose, or eyes in healthcare settings, mobile phones are perhaps second only to masks, caps, or goggles.
"However, they are neither disposable nor washable like these other three, thus warranting disinfection. Mobile phones can effectively negate hand hygiene... There is growing evidence that mobile phones are a potential vector for pathogenic organisms," the authors said.
It is the need of the hour to address the proper hygienic use of mobile phones in healthcare settings. In a study in India, almost 100 per cent of health workers of a tertiary care hospital used mobile phones in the hospital, but only 10 per cent of them had at any time wiped their mobile phones clean, the commentary published on April 22 said.
"The safest thing to do is to consider your phone as an extension of your hand, so remember you are transferring whatever is on your phone to your hand," Dr Pathak said.
Amidst the ongoing pandemic, two biggest mobile phone companies have uploaded their user support guidelines, saying that 70 pc isopropyl alcohol or Clorox Disinfecting Wipes can be used to gently wipe the exterior surface of phones in switched-off mode.
However, in doing so, the use of bleach or entry of moisture through any of the openings must be avoided, and any harsh chemical may damage the oleophobic screen, leading to damage in the touch screen sensitivity of the phone, the article stated.
Mobile phones are one of the most highly touched surfaces according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), along with counters, tabletops, doorknobs, bathroom fixtures, toilets, keyboards, tablets, and bedside tables.
The doctors recommended restrictions on mobile phone usage in healthcare settings like ICUs and operation theatres while advocating the use of headphones to prevent contact with the face while talking.
There should be no sharing of mobile phones, headphones, or headsets of any kind. In addition, where available, the use of interdepartmental intercom facility through telephones may be promoted.
AIIMS, New Delhi, Resident Doctors'' Association (RDA) General Secretary, Dr. Srinivas Rajkumar T said even outside health care settings, people should pay special attention to the usage of mobile phones as they carry them to all places.
"Phone and computer peripherals like keyboard, mouse, etc should be covered with transparent plastic covers which can be cleaned without interfering with their function. Cleaning hands by soap or alcohol-based hand sanitizer before and after contact with phone and between contact with other surfaces can decrease the risk of potential transmission.
"Using a handsfree headset, dedicated operator/assistant per ward handling the communication via common line in hospitals while on duty can enable communication without compromising safety," Dr Srinivas said.