Bell J, Finlay F, Baverstock A. (2009). Mobile phone use on a young person’s unit. Paediatr Nurs. 21(7): 14-18.
Research shows different patterns and motivations for mobile phone use among young people compared to the rest of the population. A higher percentage of young people own a mobile phone and are more likely to have a monthly subscription. In a recent survey, 58% of parents said their child owned a mobile phone because of their need or desire to communicate with friends. The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) recommended in 2004 that hospitals should balance the risk of mobile phones interfering with critical devices with the desire for better communication for patients in hospitals.
This study aimed to ascertain the use of mobile phones on the young person’s unit of a hospital and to obtain the views of the young people and nursing staff on using mobile phones while in the hospital.
A questionnaire was given to 50 young people admitted to the young person’s unit of a district general hospital during a four-week period in April and May, 2007. A separate questionnaire was given to 9 members of the nursing team over the same time period. Verbal consent was obtained from the young person and their parents and the questionnaire was completed by the young person in the presence of one or both parents.
All 50 young people asked to participate in the survey completed the questionnaires. Ages ranged from 12-17 years, with the majority being 14 years. A total of 40 young people (80%) had access to a mobile phone while on the ward. Of the 10 who did not, 9 said they owned a phone but did not have it with them while in hospital. Only 15 respondents indicated that they had been told that they could use a mobile phone on the ward. Free-text comments by young people mostly related to the benefit that mobile phones afforded them in terms of keeping in contact with friends and family, and with respect to playing games and easing boredom. Most staff allowed young people to use their mobile phones on the ward. Free-text comments by staff mostly related to the potential for mobile phones to disturb the privacy of other patients rather than concerns about effects on ward technology. All staff agreed that it was helpful for young people to use their phones on the ward.
Interpretation and Limitations
While in hospital, young people’s psychological and social needs must be considered, including their desire to chat to friends on their mobile phones or send text messages to them. Most young people in the current study had access to a mobile phone during their admission. The nursing staff generally supported the use of mobile phones to boost patient morale. However, they did not always tell young people on admission that they could use their mobile phone. This might be rectified by the introduction of a written policy. The benefits of mobile phone use on hospital wards need to be weighed against the potential for mobile ring tones to disturb other patients or to be mistaken for medical device alarms. This study is limited by the small number of participants and a single study location. Nonetheless, the authors feel that their sample was representative of young people admitted to that hospital.
Hospital staff should be aware of the new Department of Health guidance that recognize the need for young people to have ongoing communication with family and friends while in hospital and staff should adopt a flexible approach to this.