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June 06, 2012

FCC to Look into Possible Problems Using Wireless Medical Devices

Studies show that mobile medical devices, such as the ability to recieve dialysis at home for kidney disease patients, could save as much as $197 billion over the next 25 years while improving patient care.

Wireless devices are changing the face of healthcare. But with all their flair, there are also flaws.

That’s why Federal Communications Commission (FCC) officials will meet with leaders in the medical community on Wednesday to discuss challenges that come with implementing wireless medical devices.

FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski and senior executives from Philips, Qualcomm and Medtronic, as well as start-ups such as MedApps, Telcare, TheCarrot and WellDoc, will all participate, as well as officials from the Food and Drug Administration, Health and Human Services Department, Veterans Affairs and the National Institutes of Health, according to a press release.

Challenges concerning wireless medical devices include maintaining reliable connectivity, ensuring interoperability between different devices and preventing interference.

The FCC voted last month to set aside radio frequency spectrum for wireless medical devices that can monitor a patient's body, known as Medical Area Body Networks (MBANs), according to a story at MBANs are wireless sensors that are placed on a patient's body to capture clinical information, which is wirelessly transmitted to a nearby “hub” device and then forwarded on to a patient monitoring system.  

The vote made the United States the first country to set aside spectrum for the devices, according to the press release.

The low-powered sensors allow doctors to remotely monitor a patients' medical data, such as temperature, respiratory function or blood glucose levels, in real time, while they remain at home.

The worldwide telemedicine market reached $9.8 billion in 2010 and is expected to almost triple to $27.3 billion in 2016.

In addition to saving money, telemedicine helps providers speed up healthcare delivery and proactively combat long-term health issues.  Physicians can use these wireless devices to remotely detect serious health issues as they develop in patients with chronic illnesses. 

But not everyone thinks this is such a great idea. Some worry that one of the biggest perks of medicine – your relationship with your doctor – will suffer, if not disappear with these “no-touch” devices. Still, no one denies the real value they have brought to patients who no longer need to be hospitalized for their conditions.

Edited by Brooke Neuman
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