NEW YORK – Gianna Chien was somewhat different from all the other researchers reporting on their work to more than 8,000 doctors at last week’s Heart Rhythm Society meeting.
Chien is 14, and her study — which found that Apple Inc.’s iPad2 can, in some cases, interfere with life-saving heart devices because of the magnets inside the cover — is based on a science-fair project that didn’t even win her first place.
The research offers a valuable warning for people with implanted defibrillators, which deliver an electric shock to restart a stopped heart, said John Day, head of heart-rhythm services at Intermountain Medical Center in Murray, Utah.
If a person falls asleep with the iPad2 on the chest, the magnets in the cover can “accidentally turn off” the heart device, said Chien, a high school freshman in Stockton, California, whose father is a doctor. “I definitely think people should be aware. That’s why I’m presenting the study.”
Defibrillators, as a safety precaution, are designed to be turned off by magnets. The iPad2 cover uses 30 magnets to hold itself in place, Chien said. While the iPad2 cover’s 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, she found.
Apple spokeswoman Trudy Muller referred questions about the iPad2′s safety to its online product guide. The guide cautions users about radio frequency interference, suggests patients with pacemakers keep the iPad at least 6 inches (15 cm) away and says they should be turned off in health care facilities when instructed by staffers or posted signs.
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.
Medtronic Inc., the leading manufacturer of defibrillators, said its testing hasn’t found any risks from iPad technology when used according to the manufacturer’s instructions. The company does tell patients to avoid placing any magnets near the area where their devices are implanted. Most defibrillators will turn back on once the magnet is no longer affecting the device. Some, however, remain off until the magnet is reapplied or the device is turned back on manually. Patients should be told about the risk and doctors should check the devices to see if they have been inadvertently turned off by magnets, Chien said.
The results are important because they can help raise awareness of the danger in a very specific setting, Day said. “Defibrillator patients can still buy Apple products,” he said. “Just don’t put them on your chest.”