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FCC Mulls Spectrum For Medical Gear

The designation of low-frequency wireless spectrum for Medical Body Area Networks, or MBAN, could drive adoption of low-cost telehealth applications for home use.

While President Obama Tuesday signed the healthcare reform bill into law, other segments of the federal government are in the midst of decision-making that could also influence a proliferation of new healthcare services.

Several months ago, the FCC issued a notice of proposed rulemaking, or NPRM, seeking public comment on allocating a spectrum for medical body area networks, or MBAN. Some healthcare technology vendors are hoping the FCC will approve a low frequency band that they say would allow for the fast development of inexpensive medical monitoring gear for hospital and home use.

The FCC is expected to issue a draft rule on MBAN by early summer.

The spectrums being considered by the FCC include a band of 40 MHz at 2360-2400 MHz, which is a band considered underutilized, or "quiet" right now, and has been used primarily by aerospace firms and the U.S. Dept. of Defense, said Paul Coss, Philips Healthcare's MBAN and wireless strategy lead.

If allocated for MBANs, the 40 MHz swath of spectrum would allow manufacturers such as Philips to leverage existing technologies and components that work in a neighboring band and quickly develop new, very low-power wireless sensors for use in healthcare, said Coss in an interview.

New low-cost MBAN products would complement U.S. healthcare providers' ongoing efforts to roll out and "meaningfully" use e-medical records and other health IT systems in accordance with the federal government's $20 billion HITECH stimulus bill signed into law in February 2009.

Health data collected via low-cost patient monitoring devices in homes, hospitals, and even in ambulances could be integrated into these e-medical record systems.

Together, those efforts could drive the use of less costly in-home patient monitoring and fuel growth and innovation in telehealth applications, said Coss.

Healthcare products companies such as Philips Healthcare (and GE, which has been lobbying for a dedicated, low frequency radio band for patient monitoring systems for a number of years) are in favor of establishing the 2360 to 2400 MHz band for health IT purposes because the band is a "sub band" of the 2400 MHz band used for some consumer-oriented products today.

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