High prices are not the only things that can cause a shock at the mall. Most stores now have electronic article surveillance (EAS) gates, designed to deter shoplifting. Of course, you may not have noticed them, as they are often covered with signs indicating sales. But for someone with an implanted electronic medical device, stopping between them or to leaning on them can be shocking, to say the least.

According to the Association for the Advancement of Medical Instrumentation (AAMI), there has been concern about the interaction between implanted medical devices and EAS systems for more than a decade. The gates’ electromagnetic radiation can interact with devices like pacemakers and spinal cord neurostimulators, with patients experiencing shocks and other adverse effects. AAMI’s Cardiac Rhythm Management Device Committee recently met to discuss the potential risks shoppers face when exposed to these systems.

In 2007, The New York Times reported that “a 71-year-old man with an implanted defibrillator was shocked and staggered by an electronic anti-theft system, and a 76-year-old woman with a pacemaker collapsed while standing near one of the devices.” The woman, after collapsing, sat up and leaned against the machine, causing her to pass out and need to be revived several times before she was moved away from the device.

But, the gates may not even be visible gates. According to the AAMI, under-the-floor EAS systems are becoming more prevalent. Some stores even provide seating areas or refreshments near the systems, which tempt shoppers to linger when they would be best served by exiting at a normal pace.

I thought about this the other day when, concluding my holiday shopping, I passed though the EAS system and an alarm went off. The clerk had neglected to deactivate a sensor on my purchase and took my bag while I stood between the gates waiting for my purchase to be returned to me. Actually, the thought occurred to me long after I left the store how lucky I was, first, not to need an implantable device, and second, if I had had one, how easily I could have been the one passed out on the floor in the store. There were no visible cautionary signs.

In 2000, the FDA issued a guidance document “Labeling for Electronic Anti- Theft Systems,” which advised the electronic anti-theft manufacturing industry to develop labeling or signage to post on or near all new and currently installed systems, so that people with implanted devices would be cautioned to not linger near or lean on them. This “don’t lean and don’t linger” guidance is still in effect.

But, is the guidance still effective? That’s what the AAMI committee has been considering. The upshot of their discussions with physicians, representatives from pacemaker manufacturers, scientists who have performed gate testing, and gate manufacturers, is that since the systems are likely to remain in place and at the same electromagnetic levels, shoppers should continue to exit without delay.

Beth G. Sisk


Medical Design Briefs Magazine

This article first appeared in the January, 2015 issue of Medical Design Briefs Magazine.

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