GE seeks licensed spectrum for wireless patient sensors

Removing wires from patients' bedsides seen as improving mobility, reducing infection risk

LANs and WANs have been around for years, and now the Federal Communications Commission will consider allocating licensed spectrum for MBANs or Medical Body Area Networks, that will allow wireless monitoring of hospital patients.

GE Healthcare petitioned the FCC last year to set up rules for MBANs and to allocate licensed spectrum in the 2360 MHz to 2400 MHz band for use by low-power, short-range medical devices.

With that licensed spectrum, GE said today it hopes to create a wireless medical monitoring system that it calls Body Sensor Networks (BSN), primarily to replace the tangle of bedside cables used to capture a patient's vital signs, including temperature, electrocardiogram readings and respiration.

Many of those vital signs can already be read remotely, but they require a sensor attached to a patient's body which is also connected to a wire that goes to a box at the patient's bedside, where the information eventually reaches a network.

Eliminating the bedside wires is seen as a means of increasing patient mobility and lessening a patient's recovery time, said Munesh Makhija, general manager of GE Healthcare Systems and Wireless, in an interview.

GE is working on prototypes of the new wireless sensors, which would be battery operated and would include transmitters for wireless sending of data. Removing the wires would also help hospitals with infection control because the wires can harbor germs, Makhija said.

The reason for seeking licensed spectrum is to protect BSNs from potential interference from widespread unlicensed radio devices such as Bluetooth, Zigbee and Wi-Fi, GE said in a statement. However, for the band that GE is seeking, there are only two licensed stakeholders and the bands are rarely used, Makhija said. "We don't see objections [from other groups] as a huge issue at all actually," he said.

The two groups licensed on the band are amateur radio users and groups using an aeronautical application for testing planes in flight. But GE found that the testing application only involves 160 base stations nationwide, which overlay only by 2% with hospitals that might install BSNs, reducing nearly all conflicts, Makhija said.

The FCC issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking for establishing rules for MBANs on June 29, and set the period for accepting comments to begin Aug. 30.

Makhija said it could be six to 18 months before the FCC acts and GE would seek to introduce BSN devices shortly thereafter. Part of GE's research includes analyzing the way radio waves propagate around a patient's body, he said.

Jonathan Collins, an analyst at ABI Research in New York, said BSN technology could help improve care while reducing costs. The wireless sensors would cost more than wired ones as the market starts out, so hospitals will need to justify the added cost through operational savings and improved services the wireless sensors could provide, he added.

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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