Federal Communications Commission announces new measures to promote mobile technology in healthcare industry, including hiring its own healthcare czar.

Nicole Lewis, Contributor

September 28, 2012

4 Min Read

Uncle Sam Shares 12 Top Health Apps

Uncle Sam Shares 12 Top Health Apps

Uncle Sam Shares 12 Top Health Apps (click image for larger view and for slideshow)

The Federal Communications Commission chairman, Julius Genachowski, says his agency will create the position of Health Care Director, who will function as the central contact for external groups on all health-related issues. The move is one of several steps designed to pave the way to making mobile health technology an integral part of medical care within five years.

Genachowski outlined the FCC's plans this week at a press event held at the Washington D.C. headquarters of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, where a report by the mHealth Task Force was unveiled. The report includes a list of recommendations calling on government, academia, and industry to expand their collaboration and adopt policies aimed at enabling and proliferating mobile health technologies.

The FCC's latest initiatives come at a time of unprecedented innovation in the field, Genachowski said, including the recent development by Stanford University researchers of a pacemaker that can fit on the head of a pin. Instead of using batteries for power, the device is charged by a wireless transmitter outside the body.

Another example comes from the West Health Institute, which recently announced that it is licensing technology to wirelessly monitor high-risk pregnancies in remote clinics. "Wireless remote monitoring increases independence, mobility, and comfort for patients within the hospital or at home--and companies are innovating to create smaller, better, more reliable monitors every day," Genachowski said.

Recognizing the potential to transform healthcare through these burgeoning technologies, the FCC plans to expand broadband connectivity and advance the use of mobile devices, wireless health technology, and medical body area network (MBAN) devices, which will accelerate opportunities to use mobile technology in patient care. MBANs are used to monitor patients wirelessly, providing physicians with real-time patient data while giving patients mobility and greater independence.

[ Wearable devices equipped with sensors and Web connections help consumers track health and fitness. Take a look at what's possible now. 10 Wearable Devices To Keep Patients Healthy. ]

Genachowski said the work ahead requires a collaborative effort involving the public and private sector, doctors, and other healthcare stakeholders. He also suggested that as America competes with other countries in developing technology that can overcome barriers to adoption such as interoperability, reliability, connectivity, privacy and security, America's leadership role in mobile health innovation is at stake. "It's up to us whether we are the first country in the world to figure it out...."

The FCC also is considering a plan to streamline the agency's experimental licensing rules to promote the development of wireless health "test beds" that facilitate easier testing of mobile health devices.

Another FCC initiative involves reforming and modernizing the Rural Health Care Program, which has been criticized for its inability to allocate more resources to improve telecommunications services for rural health facilities. The FCC said it will consider authorizing networks of hospitals and healthcare facilities to jointly apply for program funds to boost broadband capacity and encourage the adoption of electronic health records. The FCC also plans to address the task force's recommendation to collect richer data on broadband and telehealth.

Another initiative the FCC will pursue is developing an outreach plan to promote greater collaboration between it and the healthcare sector on policies at the intersection of communications and health.

Genachowski will direct the FCC's international bureau to work with its counterparts in other countries to encourage them to make spectrum available for MBANs. Regulators also will be asked to accelerate spectrum harmonization for medically safe cross-border patient travel and better economies of scale for device makers. This plan advances earlier discussions with regulators in Europe and Mexico on these topics.

The FCC has taken several steps in recent years to take advantage of mobile technology in healthcare, including the release of the country's first National Broadband Plan in 2010. The plan identified ways in which the expansion of broadband technology could foster innovation and a better healthcare system. The FCC and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration also entered into an unprecedented partnership in 2010 to collaborate on communications-related medical innovations and to help advance innovation and investment in wireless-enabled telehealth devices. Recently, the FCC adopted new rules that made the U.S. the first country in the world to allocate spectrum for MBAN devices.

InformationWeek Healthcare brought together eight top IT execs to discuss BYOD, Meaningful Use, accountable care, and other contentious issues. Also in the new, all-digital CIO Roundtable issue: Why use IT systems to help cut medical costs if physicians ignore the cost of the care they provide? (Free with registration.)

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