FCC approves new wireless medical device channel

The Federal Communications Commission is poised to open two segments of the wireless spectrum for medical patient monitoring, chairman Julius Genachowski said in a press conference in Washington, D.C. this morning.

New rules, which the agency will vote on next week, will allow healthcare providers to use wireless spectrum for "medical body-area networks"--or MBANs--which can transmit information from, and between, mobile medical devices both in the hospital and at home, according to Genachowski. He predicted that the expansion will allow providers to monitor patients vital signs throughout the continuum of care, prevent adverse events and hospital readmissions, and ultimately lower healthcare costs.

Interestingly, hospitals won't be the only ones using the expanded spectrum bands. They'll actually share the spectrum with commercial test pilots. The new spectrum rules will allow "distinct but compatible users to share these airwaves," Genachowski said. It also "will increase the spectrum capacity and enhance the reliability of wireless medical technology."

One key way MBANs will improve patient outcomes is by making monitoring ubiquitous and unintrusive, according to Richard Katz, Director, Division of Cardiology for George Washington University Hospital, who also spoke at the press conference. He likened wireless monitoring to automatic insulin pumps, which automatically take blood sugar readings, and adjust insulin levels accordingly, rather than requiring patients to take a glucose reading, record it and track it.

Editor's Note: Read Katz's take on mobile technology's role in reducing readmissions in the new FierceMobileHealthcare eBook "Telehealth Monitoring & Mobile Tech: Improving Outcomes, Reducing Readmissions"

George Washington already is trialing wireless remote monitoring of patients in emergency response vehicles, among other projects, Katz noted. But the creation of special spectrum bands will allow hospitals to push "the frontier of mHealth," to allow continuous monitoring of conditions such as chronic lung disease, asthma and hypertension, as well as powering medication reminder technologies to help patients adhere to treatment plans, he said.

To that end, the university already is creating an mHealth working group that includes medical, engineering and other departments to consult on the issue, Katz noted.

To learn more:
- read this one-pager about MBAN from the news conference
- here are Genachowski's prepared remarks