Will FCC regulations prevent mHealth benefiting from consumer innovation?

A Wireless Week article by Maisie Ramsay reports on a proposal by the FCC that is “set to advance mHealth” by allocating “spectrum for wireless health monitoring devices”.

Julius Genachowski, Chairman, FCC, claimed in a press conference at George Washington University Hospital that the move would result in the development of “new monitoring technology” that “will result in higher quality care and also lower health care costs”.

These claims were supported by claims that this spectrum would ensure “that wireless sensors don’t have to be replaced when a patient is moved from one area of the hospital to another” and this “alone could result in $1.2 billion in annual savings”.

Supporters of the initiative include GE Healthcare, whose CTO, Michael Harsh, supported the initiative by claiming that “the technology would not only make it easier to monitor patients, but could help reduce infections, since cables used to connect monitors can harbor disease-causing bacteria… …the technology will free patients from the tangle of cords currently used to connect sensors”.

Richard Katz, Director, Cardiology, George Washington University Hospital, contributed to the need for dedicated spectrum to be allocated by claiming “I can’t even get my stethoscope on the chest any more. There’s just no room”.

Asides from vested interests of regulators and a few big legacy MedTech firms is there any benefit in this for patients?

Obviously a major political problem in the USA is that regulatory capture requires such exaggeration but is anyone really so naive that they are going to buy this initiative from an agency that clearly would love to hold a spectrum auction? Is anyone really going to believe that it is some failure or shortcoming of mobile networks that prevents patients being followed up when they leave hospitals?

It continues to amaze me that anyone could think that connectivity protocols developed for medical devices will be more open, robust and cost effective than those that are being developed from technology that is being exploited by billions of connected consumer devices and a world of innovation.

Over the last decade we’ve seen step changes happening in terms of the quality of patient care because rapidly advancing consumer devices are ALREADY being used in healthcare eg. SMS and MMS being used to communicate with patients, connected tablets being used to revolutionise access to information in clinical settings, programmable OS’s have enabled millions of mobile subscribers to benefit from health monitoring services, bluetooth 4.0 devices that have enabled encased smartphones to record and share ECGs, 3G mobile video calls that have literally put an informed Doctor in the pockets of patients, etc, etc.

In my opinion the FCC and the supporters of this bid have a flawed understanding of the challenges and they’re lending support to a counter-productive effort. It won’t be regulators stepping in to drive the creation and development of dedicated medical networks that will help us exploit the potential mHealth offers but the recognition that we’re at a stage where we should be accepting that it’s time to follow what’s working in other more technologically advanced industry sectors.

Agree? Disagree? Am I being unfair to the FCC? Please share your thoughts in the comments…

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2 Responses to Will FCC regulations prevent mHealth benefiting from consumer innovation?

  1. From my perspective, as someone who spent many years dealing with the FCC, the big win here is patient safety. The military and first responders have dedicated frequencies that insure their ability to communicate without interference from other users in the frequency spectrum. Why not mHealth?

    The Joint Commission has written that poor communication is the number one cause of sentinel events in hospitals. A dedicated wireless spectrum for mHealth devices will in my view, improve communications and lead to better patient outcomes. I support the move by the FCC.

    • Hi Sam,

      I disagree. Is there any evidence that this is a better or more effective way to connect devices?

      The worlds best connected EMS providers are using consumer wireless networks eg. in Denmark where they stream live video over consumer 3G networks to the Hospital:

      https://mhealthinsight.com/2012/05/12/ems-teams-dont-sit-about-talking-about-4g-they-make-it-happen-on-3g/

      The IT used by the military has several unique differences to what’s going on in the modern healthcare market. While you could try and argue that the army would save millions by implementing a BYOD arrangement with solidiers bringing their own tech (guns etc) from home in healthcare we also have a participant that the military will never encounter eg. in the HIT evolution that’s happening today we’re having patients bringing their own device. We can already see that in Hospitals with patients using iPads etc. Roy “the ePatient from Hell” will give you some food for thought:

      https://mhealthinsight.com/2011/11/30/going-to-hospital-wondering-what-to-take-how-about-an-ipad/

      I agree 100% that “poor communication is the number one cause of sentinel events in hospitals” but how is a dedicated spectrum and dedicated device going to impact on that? Care teams aren’t using proven digital solutions because they are concerned about “frequency spectrum interference”.

      Conversely the use of dedicated networks and devices is going to prevent patient interaction with Healthcare IT systems and there is lots of evidence that suggests this is our biggest opportunity to enhance communication and patient safety while reducing costs:

      I’ve seen the colossal waste and disappointment of projects that have tried to create unique networks for healthcare (eg. UK ambulance trusts and Hospitals that wasted millions trying to roll out their own dedicated wireless networks from the hospital) I’ve also experienced first hand great success stories from the deployment of conventional consumer networks in healthcare facilities eg. the femtocell solution at UCH in London, the iPad project at Ottawa Hospital, the BlackBerry Playbooks being used for OOH services in Devon, the secure BlackBerry PaperIQ solution being used by Community Midwives in Portsmouth, etc, etc.

      None of the above is to say that the FCC can’t add value. Stipulating an “Always Best Connected” (ABC) protocol for devices used by Patients, Doctors and EMS teams would be a brilliant start because it would give priority to medical data transfers (over say a kid using the same network who is simultaneously trying to download a video game).

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