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FCC set to advance mHealth

Fri, 05/18/2012 - 2:34pm
Maisie Ramsay, Wireless Week

An FCC proposal to allocate spectrum for wireless health monitoring devices could lead to the development of products that may lower healthcare costs and improve outcomes for patients, the head of the agency said today.

“This new monitoring technology will result in higher-quality care and also lower healthcare costs,” FCC Chief Julius Genachowski said during a press conference at George Washington University Hospital in Washington, D.C.

For instance, wireless sensors don't have to be replaced when a patient is moved from one area of the hospital to another. This alone could result in $1.2 billion in annual savings, Genachowski said.

The plan will go up for a vote at the FCC’s May 24 open meeting. Genachowski’s remarks provided few new details about the proposal, which was listed on the FCC’s meeting agenda when it was announced earlier this month.

If approved, the spectrum would open the door to the development of wireless sensors that can detect heart rate, blood pressure and other indications of a patient's condition.

Representatives from George Washington University Hospital, Philips Healthcare and GE Healthcare also spoke at the event.

Michael Harsh, chief technology officer at GE Healthcare, said the technology would not only make it easier to monitor patients, but could help reduce infections, since cables used to connect monitors can harbor disease-causing bacteria.

“Healthcare providers will be able to deliver better care and save lives with this technology,” he said.

Further, the technology will free patients from the tangle of cords currently used to connect sensors.

"I can't even get my stethoscope on the chest anymore. There's just no room," said Richard Katz, director of George Washington University Hospital's division of cardiology.

The sensors can also track patients after they leave the hospital, providing doctors with critical information on the progress of their recovery.

The technology is still in the early stages of development, but it is expected to comprise a sensor attached to a patient, which is in turn connected to a handset-type device located on or near the user – picture a cell phone in a holster.

The receiver will transmit information about patient vital signs to the relevant healthcare provider, which in turn can use it as an early warning system for conditions such as diabetes and heart attacks.

Medical body area networks have been in the works for years. The FCC issued a proposal on the technology in 2009 looking at which bands could be used for the technology while protecting incumbent users in the aviation industry.

The agency did not specify in its open meeting notice which spectrum bands it will open for the devices – several different bands were cited in its notice of proposed rulemaking three years ago – but Genachowski said today the sensors would run on spectrum currently used almost exclusively by commercial test pilots.

A recent joint filing by a group of healthcare providers and the Aerospace Flight Test Coordinating Council recommended the sensors run on the 2.36-2.4 GHz band.

The FCC's expected order will set up medical body area networks spectrum and service rules and will solicit comment on an appropriate coordinator for the technology.

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