FCC Vote Paves The Road For Wireless Medical Devices

Posted on by Frank J. Rosello

The Federal Communications Commission voted today to set aside protected broadband spectrum for wireless medical devices known as medical body area networks (MBANs). These sensors can monitor and read a patient’s vital signs wirelessly. By eliminating the cables that restrict a patient to their hospital bed, experts say the devices could transform the way patients’ health is monitored.

The FCC’s decision – taken at the suggestion of GE Healthcare and Philips Healthcare, which have been working with George Washington University Hospital on several projects related to MBANs – will set aside spectrum access that is free of transmission interference from Wi-Fi and other high-powered consumer devices.

With this ruling, the FCC has allocated 40 MHz of spectrum – 2360 to 2400 MHz – for use by MBAN devices on a shared, secondary basis. This provides a spectrum band for short-range medical technologies to facilitate reliable low-power operation. The FCC’s rule aligns with its National Broadband Plan, which set the goal of advancing several specific “national purposes” including healthcare.

With most patient monitors connecting via cables, some experts say the elimination of those wires could increase a patient’s mobility, helping contribute to improved patient outcomes and enhancing overall comfort.

Small, wearable sensors could collect real-time clinical information such as temperature, blood glucose and respiratory function, and aggregate it at a nearby device for local processing and forwarding to centralized displays and electronic medical records.

GE and Philips officials applauded the FCC’s ruling.

“With access to special-purpose spectrum, the healthcare industry’s research and development efforts can go into overdrive,” said Anthony Jones, chief marketing officer, Patient Care and Clinical Informatics, Philips Healthcare. “The expansion of wireless monitoring capabilities will help allow earlier clinical diagnoses, decisions and interventions, supporting the delivery of better patient care at lower costs.”

“The FCC’s ruling is the culmination of strong collaboration between the medical industry, regulatory officials and aeronautical stakeholders,” added Mike Harsh, vice president and Chief Technology Officer at GE Healthcare. “This is an important inflection point, as it enables advances in miniaturized wireless sensors leveraging the latest chip design and clinical measurement technologies. MBANs could significantly enhance quality and access to patient care, while supporting reduced costs.”

MBANs could offer further benefits in the hospital, officials noted:

  • Early intervention. Clinicians can catch issues before the patient’s condition becomes critical, thus improving patient outcomes while avoiding the need for acute interventional measures.
  • Ease of patient transport. There will no longer be a need to disconnect and reconnect wires prior to transporting a patient.
  • Infection control. By limiting the wires, MBANs could help reduce the risk of infection and the need for cleaning procedures.
  • Flexibility. Caregivers will be able to quickly add or remove sensors for different physiological parameters as medical conditions warrant.

“MBANs represent the next evolution in monitoring a patient’s health status,” said Richard Katz, MD, director of the Division of Cardiology at George Washington University Hospital. “These wireless innovations can enhance patient safety by giving caregivers the ability to monitor many clinical measurements, wherever the patient is located.”

Article written by Erin McCann, Associate Editor with Healthcare IT News

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