A recent abstract presented at Heart Rhythm 2013 suggested that magnets in the Apple iPad could potentially disable implantable cardiac defibrillators.
Pacemakers and defibrillators can be turned off by certain magnet’s “magnet mode” although many are designed to turn back on when the magnet is removed.
Some, however, remain off until the magnet is reapplied or the device is turned back on manually.
The study showed that in a subset of patients the magnets built into the iPad2 (used to hold the smart cover in place) can potentially cause an issue if the iPad is rested against the patient’s chest.
While the iPad2 magnets aren’t powerful enough to cause problems when a person is holding the tablet out in front of the chest, it can be risky to rest it against the body e.g. when sleeping.
The study involving 26 volunteers with defibrillators found “magnet mode” was triggered in 30 percent of patients who put the tablet on their chest. The iPad2 didn’t interfere with four pacemakers or a loop-recorder, which were also tested.
Interestingly, Apple already appears to be aware of the issue, as clearly stated in their iPad User Guide:
“iPad has magnets along the left edge of the device and on the right side of the front glass, which may interfere with pacemakers, defibrillators, or other medical devices. The iPad Smart Cover and iPad Smart Case also contain magnets. Maintain at least 6 inches (approximately 15 cm) of separation between your pacemaker or defibrillator and iPad, the iPad Smart Cover, or the iPad Smart Case.”
Medtronic Inc., said its own testing hasn’t found any risks from iPad technology when used according to the manufacturer’s instructions although they did give a statement saying:
“The presentation at Heart Rhythm 2013 is a good reminder for patients to remain vigilant on new technology and its accessories and maintain a distance of six inches between an iPad and an implanted pacemaker or ICD.”
This study, along with a recent article published by iMedicalApps, highlights the ease by which certain medical devices can malfunction as a result of interaction with mobile technology. This is perhaps something that should be formally investigated to truly understand the risk posed by mobile technology devices.