Silver-Coated Screens Show Limited Promise in Protecting Doctor’s Cell Phones From Germs

December 20, 2019

Investigators seeking to determine whether silver-coated screens on resident physicians’ cell phones could reduce microbial contamination have published their inconclusive findings in the December issue of Infection Control & Hospital Epidemiology

The screens of 26 resident physicians at Duke University Medical Center were tested in the beginning of the study, again at day 7, and finally at day 30. Investigators collected samples from the palms of the physicians’ hands and from the front and sides of their cell phones. They then sterilized the phones and applied a Antimicrobial Corning Gorilla Glass screen cover. Investigators sought out to see whether the silver screens reduced contaminants such as Cutibacterium, Delftia, Lawsonella, Staphylococcus, and Streptococcus, which were the 5 most abundant samples taken from the screen sides of the phones. 

No change occurred within the microbiome over 30 days, but the α diversity was significantly lower at day 7. “The similar phone microbiomes of days 0 and 30 suggest the transmission of bacteria from a cell phone via hands to patients would be a similar risk from a cell phone with or without this antimicrobial screen at least over periods of time >30 days,” the study states.

The screens incorporate silver ions that are supposed to leach to the glass surface to eliminate the surface bacteria in multiple modes. The study states that one possible explanation for the lack of microbial resistance over 30 days “could be that effective doses of silver were no longer being leached from the glass, thus it lost its antimicrobial properties by day 30. This hypothesis would need to be verified by measuring silver concentrations on the phones.” 

In January, James Davis, a senior infection prevention and patient safety analyst/consultant with ECRI Institute, told ICT that there may be more low-tech ways to keep smartphones decontaminated. He said that “we are always balancing how to clean and disinfect a particular device. When you talk to a manufacturer such as Apple, they say just use a damp cloth, but there are no instructions for use (IFU) for these devices in the healthcare setting.” 

Some solutions are as simple as putting a smartphone or tablet into a Ziploc-type bag if you must bring it into an isolation room—it's essentially personal protective equipment (PPE) for your phone. When you are done in that room, remove it like a pair of gloves and throw it away, then and wipe your device off and wash your hands.