Pacemaker risk from latest iPhone

Technology News |
By Nick Flaherty

A study by a UK medical association has identified a pacemaker risk from the latest Apple iPhone 12.

The issue comes from the Magsafe wireless charging that is implemented on the iPhone 12 for the first time.

This uses a series of large magnets to position the phone on the charger for optimum alignment with the highest power, fast charging at 15W. However, these magnets can interfere with an Implantable Cardioverter Defibrillator (ICD), or pacemaker, says the British Heath Rhythm Association.

An ICD system contains a battery, capacitors, sensing/ pacing circuit together with an intra-or extra-cardiac lead. All ICD pacemakers have an in-built switch (Reed switch, Hall-effect sensors, Giant magneto sensitive resistors or coils) which respond to an externally applied magnetic field. When an external magnet is applied to a defibrillator, high voltage shock therapy for ventricular tachycardia and ventricular fibrillation is suspended. It has been estimated that a magnetic field stronger than 10 Gauss is strong enough to activate these switches.

The interaction was tested this interaction on a patient with an ICD from Medtronic, the major supplier of the technology in an approved study.

Once the iPhone was brought close to the ICD over the left chest area, immediate suspension of ICD therapies was noted which persisted for the duration of the test. This was reproduced multiple times with different positions of the phone over the pocket.

“We hereby bring an important public health issue concerning the newer generation iPhone 12 which can potentially inhibit lifesaving therapy in a patient particularly while carrying the phone in upper pockets,” said the association. “Contemporary studies have shown minimal risk of electromagnetic interference with ICDs and prior smartphones without magnetic arrays.”

Next: Explaining pacemaker risk

The Apple website does mention magnetic interference with medical devices and prior consulting with a doctor and medical device manufacturers.

“Medical device manufacturers and implanting physicians should remain vigilant in making patients aware of this significant interaction of the iPhone 12 and other smart wearables with their cardiac implantable electronic devices,” says the association in its advisory notice.

In FCC filings in the US for the MagSafe charger (FCC ID: BCGA2140), it shows the puck charger is only certified to 7.5W at the Qi frequency (127.7 KHz). However, the filings show the MagSafe charger was certified to 15W watts at 360 KHz in a proprietary mode.

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