Once spectrum is approved, wireless patient monitors still face obstacles

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is expected to approve designating a spectrum for wireless medical devices, but approval and reimbursement issues could stand in the way, The Wall Street Journal reports.

Today's FCC vote is just the first step for MBANs--mobile body area networks--which are predicted to make in-hospital monitoring more effective, minimize clutter in emergency rooms and allow for at-home monitoring. The Band-Aid-sized devices can monitor vital signs and, using the bandwidth set aside by the FCC, stream the data to doctors.

However, as the WSJ notes, hospitals face rising costs and declining reimbursements from payers, which could hamper adoption. Furthermore, insurance companies may not cover at-home monitoring, as reimbursement policy tends to favor face-to-face consultations. And then there's the regulatory angle: In-development MBANs--like those from GE Healthcare ($GE) and Philips Healthcare ($PHG)--will have to clear both the FCC and FDA in order to get their devices to market.

That said, the expected FCC approval clears the way for devicemakers to start bearing down on developing MBANs, and researchers and analysts say the devices serve an unmet need. They'll allow doctors to keep closer tabs on patients, increasing the odds that medical complications can be caught and treated before inflicting harm. The devices carry none of the risk of infection present in wired monitors, and, as GE notes, the information they mine will create a huge data set for researchers. 

- read the WSJ report (sub. req.)