Wireless health monitoring technology expected to expand

The FCC has approved the allocation of wireless spectrum on which mobile health devices can transmit data.

By Pamela Lewis Dolan — Posted Oct. 2, 2012

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The idea of widespread use of uninterrupted, untethered, wireless patient monitoring devices came one step closer to reality when the Federal Communications Commission released a final rule on Sept. 11 outlining its plan for allocating wireless spectrum for medical body area networks, or MBANs.

The final rules, scheduled to go into effect Oct. 11, detail the FCC’s plans for the allocation in the 2360-2400 MHz band that previously was reserved for the aerospace industry for flight testing. The spectrum will be shared to allow physicians to monitor patients in real time without them being tethered to telemetry machines by using MBAN technology. MBANs are low-powered wireless sensors that attach to the body to monitor vital signs and send them to a central data collection hub.

Because of the overwhelming number of mobile devices in use, existing wireless networks have been deemed not reliable enough to handle a significant increase in use of new critical monitoring devices.

In its rule, the FCC said the new spectrum allocation “will promote the widespread use of beneficial MBAN technologies. Such deployment will reduce health care expenses, improve the quality of patient care and could ultimately save lives.”

MBAN technology could save the health care industry $1.2 billion annually by eliminating the need for patients to be tethered to hospital beds, according to the FCC. It not only will allow patients more mobility by being monitored from anywhere in the hospital — in some cases from home — but it also will reduce the risk of infections from cords and wires.

Philips Healthcare Systems and GE Healthcare, which have devices in development that are awaiting spectrum allocation before the devices can be taken to the market, played a key role in getting the spectrum allocation approved. They teamed with representatives from the aerospace industry in 2011 to draft a proposal to the FCC that detailed a shared wireless spectrum. That draft became the framework for the rules the FCC finalized in September.

Although GE and Philips said they were pleased with the publication of the rules, they are urging the FCC to appoint an MBAN coordinator quickly. Manufacturers that develop MBAN technology would have to register and coordinate use of the devices with the MBAN coordinator, who will ensure that they will not interfere with other devices. The FCC set a target date of June 2013 to have the coordinator in place. GE and Philips are urging the FCC to “proceed expeditiously to meet its articulated target.”

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