FCC's final rules bring hospitals closer to mobile monitoring

The Federal Communications Commission has published final rules allocating spectrum for monitors that can free patients from their hospital beds.

Establishing "medical body area networks"--or MBANs--which can transmit information from wearable monitors, will allow providers to monitor patients' vital signs throughout the continuum of care, prevent adverse events and hospital readmissions, and ultimately lower healthcare costs, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski has predicted.

The FCC is allocating 40 MHz of spectrum in the 2360-2400 MHz band for these low-power networks, with the 2360-2390 MHz band to be used indoors only, and the 2390-2400 MHz band to accommodate outdoor use, as well.

The systems consist of the wearable monitors that send non-voice data to nearby hubs that collect data from multiple sensors. The FCC denied a request by AT&T to include voice data.

The rules do not allow direct communication between monitors or hubs, though they will be able to integrate with other hospital systems. The systems also cannot be expanded through mesh-type networks that could extend the range beyond the hospital, the rules say. As FierceMobileHealthcare has pointed out, the expansion of wireless networks raises more security risks for hospitals. The FCC, however, said it might revisit these issues in the future as it gathers more information.

In tech-heavy hospitals, there's risk of other interference, calling for careful management of MBANs, the rules say. The upper end of the band sits adjacent to that used by Wi-Fi and wireless local area network (WLAN) devices as well as industrial, scientific and medical (ISM) equipment.

The agency has yet to name a frequency coordinator to prevent interference as it shares the spectrum with aeronautical telemetry, the testing of aircraft. That coordinator is expected to be named by next June. Users of the frequency will be required to register their systems with the FCC to help it coordinate use.

Meanwhile, eager startups see the FCC's action as a gold rush as they create devices such as the washable, sensor-embedded T-shirt from Rest Devices Inc. ABI Research predicts growth of 41 percent a year as the market for embedded health monitoring-gadgets hits 170 million devices by 2017.

To learn more:
- read the FCC rules

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