* Vote for approval expected May 24
* Sets aside two bands for medical devices
By Sinead Carew
NEW YORK, May 17 The U.S. telecommunications
regulator on Thursday announced plans to set aside a chunk of
spectrum for connecting wireless medical devices to allow for
more convenient and cost-effective health monitoring.
The allocation of spectrum for so-called Medical Body Area
Networks (MBANs) is part of Federal Communications Commission
Chairman Julius Genachowski's push to free up unused spectrum
and will be up for a vote at the FCC's May 24 meeting.
The idea, which the FCC has been working on for about two
years, is that doctors could monitor a patient's vital signs at
home or in the hospital via low-cost wearable sensors that are
attached to the patient's body and wirelessly connected to the
machines that process and display the data for doctors.
Currently, such sensors have to be attached directly to
machines by wires, making it difficult for patients to leave
The masses of wires connected to a patient also make it more
difficult to care for them and potentially increases the chances
of hospital errors and impedes infection control, Michael Harsh,
chief technology officer of GE Healthcare, said during a webcast
of a press event where the plan was announced.
As well as allowing for better healthcare, Anthony Jones,
chief marketing officer for Philips Healthcare, said the
wireless devices would reduce costs as patients may not have to
stay in a hospital for so long to be monitored.
"The cost of monitoring beyond the hospital has been too
expensive. What MBANs does is changes this equation
dramatically," Jones said.
The FCC said the new devices could also help speed a
diagnosis or allow earlier intervention in the case of a medical
problem as doctors may be able to respond more quickly.
The FCC's Genachowski told reporters that a hospital patient
monitored with such equipment would have a roughly 48 percent
chance of surviving a cardiac arrest compared with a 6 percent
chance for unmonitored patients.
As well as setting aside the spectrum, Genachowski said he
would look into other ways that could make it easier for medical
device makers to experiment with new types of wireless
applications and bring such products to the market.
"To maximize the potential we will consider new rule makings
to allow more intensive use of spectrum," he said.
Any devices would still need to gain approval from the U.S.
Food and Drug Administration, the country's healthcare
Genachowski said the FCC had worked with the FDA to make the
current initiative possible. The FDA was not immediately
available for a comment.
So far the FCC aims to set aside two spectrum bands, one of
which would only be valid for devices used in medical
facilities. A second spectrum band could be used for remote
monitoring of patients who are in their own homes.