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May 24, 2012

FCC Agrees to Wireless Spectrum for Medical Uses

The FCC agreed today to allocate a wireless spectrum for medical sensors. It had been considering a proposal for a “medical body area network” (MBAN) since 2010.

“Today’s action by the FCC has the potential to transform wireless health opportunities to improve the quality of care and lower costs,” said Bruce Rainey, vice president, facilities design and construction at Scripps Health, and member of the West Wireless Health Council. “It brings to the forefront the concerns and questions that a number of stakeholders involved with wireless health have been expressing, including the need for testing and certifying devices that use this spectrum, and the need for new devices and technologies accessing this spectrum to be fully interoperable.

The West Health Institute formed the West Wireless Health Council, a coalition of hospital leaders from across the country, to develop solutions to capitalize on wireless health technology in healthcare delivery settings, and ultimately lower insurance costs.

“It also demonstrates the need for hospitals and health care systems to deploy the West Wireless Health Council’s free reference architecture for hospital network design,” Rainey continued. “This enables medical grade wireless to be incorporated into any hospital so that new vendors and technologies, like MBAN, may be easily deployed to improve patient care and to lower costs.”

Wireless frequencies are the radio portion of the electromagnetic spectrum. The radio spectrum spans a certain, limited frequency range. The radio spectrum is the area in which signals from cell phones and other devices travel to be transmitted. The range of frequencies is fixed and limited, determined by physics of the universe, according to

Patients will enjoy greater mobility when wires can be discarded, according to Joe McMenamin, JD, MD, at He notes that immobilized patients, who are at higher risk for emboli, wasting, bed sores, pneumonias and other problems, can be harmed if cables are not sterilized after use by one patient and before use by another.

This is not a small advantage, as 13 percent out of slightly over a thousand patients developed hospital-acquired infections (HAI) in 2000, according to a study. They also double hospital costs. 

Jeneen Interlandi reported at Scientific American that two million HAIs kill roughly 100,000 people every year and add $45 billion in costs, noting that that is as many lives and dollars as taken by AIDS, breast cancer and auto accidents combined.

Edited by Braden Becker
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