FCC chairman seeks to widen use of medical body area networks

Twitter icon
Facebook icon
LinkedIn icon
e-mail icon
Google icon
Patient Monitor - 40.83 Kb

If Julius Genachowski has his way, the U.S. will become the first country in the world to allocate wireless spectrum for medical body area network (MBAN) devices in hospitals, clinics and doctors’ offices.

Genachowski, chairman of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), made his hopes clear in a May 17 commission document proposing that the agency consider new rules permitting “more intensive use” of spectrum for wireless medical devices

Genachowski presented his proposal at George Washington Hospital in Washington, D.C., on the 17th, according to the document. He was joined by representatives of GE Healthcare and Philips Healthcare, two vendors developing MBAN products.

Genachowski said the “creative use of spectrum” gives manufacturers of wireless medical devices “the certainty they need to streamline their product development, which for many years operated on a variety of frequencies.”  

MBAN technology uses small, low-powered sensors placed on the human body to capture such clinical information as temperature and respiratory function, freeing patients from wires tethering them to their hospital beds.

The FCC cited several recently published numbers that support its case for expanded MBAN capacity, including:

  • Remote monitoring of patients with congestive heart failure alone would create an annual savings of more than $10 billion a year, according to the West Wireless Health Institute.
  • According to the Health Information and Management Systems Society, almost 17 million people in the U.S. are accessing health data on their mobile phones, a 125 percent increase since 2010, and mHealth is expected to be a $2 billion to $6 billion industry by 2015.
  • About 88 percent of doctors support patients monitoring their health at home, especially weight, blood sugar and vital signs, according to Float Mobile Learning.
  • Remote monitoring could generate net savings of $197 billion over 25 years from earlier treatment leading to better outcomes in four common chronic conditions. (Robert E. Litan and the Kaufman Foundation, “Vital Signs via Broadband: Remote Health Monitoring Transmits Savings, Enhances Lives,” 2008.)

“With MBAN technology, physicians can intervene before a patient’s condition seriously deteriorates—resulting in less time spent in the intensive care unit, and also a reduction in costly follow-up visits,” said Genachowski, adding that avoiding expenses from moving patients from rehabilitation clinics and nursing homes to emergency departments and physician offices, or from one emergency department to another, could result in $1.2 billion in annual savings.

“On top of better care and lower costs, MBAN technology can also be a platform for new innovations we can only imagine,” he said. “Previously, this spectrum was used almost exclusively by commercial test pilots. The FCC’s proposed rules represent a multi-industry effort to foster innovation in this spectrum band by allowing distinct but compatible users to share these airwaves. … I expect [the change] will eventually lead to technologies not just for healthcare facilities, but also for in-home use.”

The FCC has scheduled for May 24 an open meeting to discuss the chairman’s proposal. The agenda shows that the agency will not only seek grounds on which to establish new MBAN rules but also request comment on the selection of an MBAN coordinator.