The first internal pacemakers were developed in the 1950s. Heart patients were naturally skeptical: How does it run? Will the battery die? Can I be electrocuted?
Just two decades later, the devices had become commonplace. The Six-Million Dollar Man went prime time, and humanity was making its first wobbly steps into the field of bionics when a problem suddenly arose: reports of pacemaker malfunctions were being reported in patients who stood near microwave ovens.
Thankfully, those days are gone. The improved shielding of both pacemakers and microwaves has eliminated any potential for the two devices to interact.
But we're not out of the woods yet. Even today, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration remains concerned about interactions between cell phones and pacemakers. So it's only natural for patients to wonder about other potential sources of electromagnetic interference.
Some of those sources could be the increasing number of hybrid and electric cars we drive.
Thankfully, Mayo Clinic is working to nip this problem in the bud with a study of pacemakers and hybrid vehicles. There, researchers monitored 30 pacemaker recipients as they rode in a 2012 Toyota Prius.
Study participants rotated positions within the vehicle, moving from the driver's seat, to the passenger's seat, to both sides of the rear. Patients were also tested while standing in front of and behind the vehicle.
When all was said and done, researchers determined that the Prius "did not generate clinically relevant amounts of [electromagnetic interference] and that the car is safe for patients with implanted devices...". However, lead researchers Luis R. Scott, M.D. and Fernando Tondato, M.D. both agree that further research is necessary to verify the study's results. Presumably subsequent studies will include a broader range of vehicles, including some electric cars.
You can watch Dr. Scott discuss the study's findings in the video clip embedded above.