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.
By making a few "tweaks" in existing technology components already available today, healthcare products companies like Phillips -- and suppliers like Texas Instruments -- could adjust their sensors for use in patient monitoring gear that to be used in hospital and home environments, said Delroy Smith, Philips Healthcare's technical product design lead.

The sensors would be used to monitor "core functions" and vital signs, helping remote clinicians or family members at home identify when a patient is "getting into trouble," Coss said.

"It's like a check engine light coming on" before a car breaks down, he said.

"Young children in neonatal units of hospitals could come home sooner, and continue being monitored from home," said Coss. "Eighty percent of [wellness, chronic illness and other health] care is provided in the home environment, but most healthcare dollars [are] spent in hospitals," he said. The use of medical monitoring from home could help reduce some of those costs while improving patient medical outcomes, he said.

It could also help rein in costs and improve patient safety as 32 million previously uninsured Americans gain access to healthcare coverage through new healthcare reform legislation.

Philips, GE, and several other medical equipment companies would also like to see the FCC allocate the 2360 to 2400 band for MBANs over higher frequency bands, such as 5150 to 5250 MHz.

Those higher bands would require more power consumption, reducing the chances for manufacturers to develop lower cost, disposable medical sensors and the batteries to run them.

"You'd end up having to create new radio chips, and that would be cost-prohibitive," Smith said.

As for the existing aeronautical and Department of Defense users in the 2360 to 2400 MHz spectrum favored by Philips for MBAN, some parts could be protected by designating them "exclusive" zones, said Smith.