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Device Clears Way For Phones In Operating Rooms

Rob Zondervan and the Clean Case Mobile Device Cover photo
Scott Pohl
Rob Zondervan inserts a phone into his Clean Case Mobile Device Cover.

Cell phones are dirty things. According to some media reports, they’re dirtier than toilet seats. Not something you want in an operating room, that’s for sure.

There are good reasons for a surgeon to want a cell phone nearby during an operation. A student in the Michigan State University College of Osteopathic Medicine Ph.D program has invented a device that he hopes will give surgeons access to a phone while preserving a sterile environment.

Mobile devices are such powerful tools, we need them to be a part of medicine. - Rob Zondervan, inventor

Rob Zondervan's invention is the Clean Case Mobile Device Cover. The idea is to allow a surgeon to take photos, shoot video, look at procedure notes or consult with peers during an operation. 

The cover is simple, but an improvement over what you might think of first with this sort of thing: why not use a Ziploc bag? "There's currently a device on the market called called the E-Shield, which is, essentially, that," Zondervan explains. "It's a loosely fitting plastic baggie that goes over your phone. The problem with it, from all the surgeons I've talked to that use it, is that it's just not functional. It slides around with your gloves, it's not easy to clean, it can be easily damaged."

Instead of getting rid of mobile devices, let's figure out how we can control this and mitigate risk. - Rob Zondervan, inventor

Zondervan's one-time use device is ready for clinical use, but the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is validating it. Mostly plastic, it resembles a cell phone case with a funnel that guides the phone inside in a sterile setting. It's designed to protect the patient and the surgeon more than the phone itself.

Some surgeons and patients might be reluctant to have a phone in the operating room, documenting what's going on. There could be concerns regarding proceedings that go wrong, or patient privacy. Zondervan says "mobile devices are such powerful tools, we need them to be a part of medicine, how fast you can access information. It's improving patient care. Instead of getting rid of mobile devices, let's figure out how we can control this and mitigate risk."

He points to texting and photo sharing apps that protect privacy as a way to ease such concerns.

The Clean Case Mobile Device Cover should see pilot program usage in local hospitals in January. After that, Zondervan plans to develop a similar device for tablets.

Scott Pohl is a general assignment news reporter and produces news features and interviews. He is also an alternate local host on NPR's "Morning Edition."
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