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What just happened? Apple has already warned users with fitted medical devices to be careful where they place their iPhone 12, and now the American Heart Association (AHA) has shown why people should heed this advice. The AHA's study also suggests the handsets pose a bigger risk than older iPhones, something Apple claimed isn't the case.
Back in January, Apple said that its latest flagship and MagSafe accessories should be kept a safe distance from pacemakers, implantable cardioverter-defibrillators (ICD), and other implants that might respond to magnets and radios. Apple writes in its support document that the iPhone 12 series should remain at least six inches away from the medical devices in question and more than twelve inches if wirelessly charging.
The AHA said "select devices" from Medtronic, Abbott, and Boston Scientific were found to have "magnetic susceptibility." The organization confirmed Apple products with MagSafe technology could cause interference to the cardiac devices when placed over the skin or are in very close proximity.
"Our study demonstrates that magnet reversion mode may be triggered when the iPhone 12 Pro Max is placed directly on the skin over an implantable cardiac device and thus has the potential to inhibit lifesaving therapies," the researchers wrote, via AppleInsider.
The iPhone 12 Pro Max was used with 11 pacemakers and defibrillators in the tests. Some were implanted in patients ("in vivo") while others were newly unboxed devices that had not yet been implanted ("ex vivo"). While the amount of interference did vary, all the medical devices were affected. The report states that "the iPhone 12 Pro Max was able to trigger magnetic reversion mode at a distance up to 1.5cm [0.6 inches]."
Apple had stated that the iPhone 12 line was no more threatening to pacemakers than previous generations of iPhones, but the AHA disagrees. "[…] magnet response was demonstrated in 3/3 cases in vivo. In comparison to the older generation iPhone 6, a study performed by Lacour et al, found no cases of magnet response in a sample size of 148 patients."
The study illustrates the need for users of cardiac implantable electronic devices (CIED) to exercise caution around anything with a strong magnet. "People often put their smartphones in a breast pocket over a device which can be in close proximity to CIEDs. This can lead to asynchronous pacing or disabling of antitachycardic therapies," the researchers warn.
It's worth noting that the FDA, in its own testing, concluded that the "risk to patients [who use iPhone 12 handsets) is low," though it also warned to keep cell phones and smartwatches at least six inches away from implanted medical devices.