FCC finalizes MBAN rule, still must appoint coordinator

By Neil Versel
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FCCThe Federal Communications Commission has finalized its rule on medical body-area networks (MBANs), officially allocating a portion of the wireless spectrum to wearable sensors.

Bloomberg BNA's Health IT Law & Industry Report says that the action makes the U.S. the first country in the world to open up spectrum to networks of wireless medical sensors, though MBANs will be the secondary user on airwaves already used for flight testing.

Under the rule, which takes effect Oct. 10, MBAN devices may operate in the range of 2360-2400 megahertz. Communication for flight testing overlaps at 2360-2395 MHz.

"The specific MBAN technology that can be deployed under our revised [Medical Device Radiocommunications Service (MedRadio)] rules promises to enhance patient care as well as to achieve efficiencies that can reduce overall health care costs," according to the FCC.

"The Commission concludes that there are significant public interest benefits associated with the development and deployment of new MBAN technologies. Existing wired technologies inevitably result in reduced patient mobility and increased difficulty and delay in transporting patients. Caregivers, in turn, can spend inordinate amounts of time managing and arranging monitor cables, as well as gathering patient data."

While wireless telemetry systems have been allowed in hospitals and clinics for years, MBANs allow for monitoring outside of traditional healthcare settings. "The Commission concludes that an MBAN represents an improvement over traditional medical monitoring devices (both wired and wireless) in several ways, and will reduce the cost, risk and complexity associated with health care. The Commission also concludes that these benefits can be achieved with minimal cost," the rule says.

MBANs will operate on what the FCC calls its "license-by-rule" framework, meaning that healthcare providers will have to register and coordinate the use of certain wireless equipment. However, this cannot happen until the commission appoints a frequency coordinator to manage such operations.

Monday, one day before the final rule appeared in the Federal Register, medical equipment manufacturers Philips Healthcare Systems and GE Healthcare sent joint comments to the FCC urging the commission to have its MBAN coordination system in place by June 2013. "It is important that the coordinator be fully familiar with the hospital environment and technological propagation mitigation tools so that robust technical solutions can be designed where and when required," the companies say.

Philips and GE, two companies eager to market their own MBAN technologies, previously teamed up on a joint proposal that largely became the basis for the new rule. As MobiHealthNews previously reported, GE Healthcare described MBANs as kind of a "Facebook for the body."