FCC approves spectrum bandwidth for medical devices

GE Healthcare ($GE), Philips Healthcare and their competitors got what they wanted from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) this week: A unanimous vote to allow spectrum bandwidth for medical devices.

As Bloomberg reports, the May 24 vote sets the stage to reshape hospitals and home care. The spectrum bandwidth will help support medical body area network (MBAN) devices, so patients' vital signs can be monitored wirelessly at a healthcare facility or at home. Picture hospital rooms having far fewer cables, for example, and patients enjoying newfound freedom to move around because they won't have to remain connected to wires from their bedside. MBAN sensors are small and wearable.

Both GE Healthcare and Philips issued a joint statement applauding the FCC's 5-to-0 vote, following a negotiated deal between the device companies and the aerospace industry, the latter of which worried that wireless medical data could mess up flight test telemetry from missiles and planes, according to the story. The companies said the move "could revolutionize the way patients are monitored and help eliminate the restrictive cables that tether patients to hospital beds" by using MBAN sensors. What's more, they said getting access to spectrum, free of conflicting transmissions from WiFi or other consumer devices, will help fuel the growth of MBAN technology by making it more viable.

And lest we think it's just a high-tech advance, the companies are careful to say in their joint statement that MBAN sensors "could significantly enhance quality and access to patient care, while supporting reduced costs." As CNN has previously reported, manufacturers expect patients to save between $2,000 and $12,000, because the sensors are cheaper to produce than what caregivers use now. Still, hospitals dealing with declining insurance reimbursements and rising costs may not adopt the new technology all too quickly, The Wall Street Journal has speculated. And who's to say if insurers will cover home monitoring?

Hospitals will be able to use the wireless monitoring devices as long as they are low power and shut off when a patient is outside. They'll also be hampered if they're near a ground-receiving station for aerial telemetry, Bloomberg notes. MBAN sensors will need FCC and FDA approval before they're marketed commercially.

- read the Bloomberg story