FCC Opens Spectrum Once Reserved for Healthcare

Posted August 13, 2015

FCCThe Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has opened up part of the wireless spectrum previously reserved for patient monitoring systems to unlicensed devices, a move that’s generating questions and concern in the healthcare community.

At a meeting in early August, the FCC adopted a rule to open channels in the 600 mhz band, which includes Channel 37. That channel is used by Wireless Medical Telemetry Service (WMTS), which deals with patient monitors.

In a statement, Rick Pollack, executive vice president of the American Hospital Association, said his organization was “deeply concerned” by the FCC’s decision to allow unlicensed devices to operate on the same spectrum as patient monitors.

“These unlicensed devices may cause interference with wireless monitoring, preventing doctors and nurses from receiving vital information,” Pollack said. “There are more than 360,000 WMTS patient monitors in hospitals today, many of which are used for women and infants during labor and delivery and critical heart surgery patients.”

Members of AAMI’s Wireless Strategy Task Force have begun to study the ruling, saying its impact will likely be significant for healthcare facilities.

In comments posted on an online discussion group, Stephen Berger, president of TEM Consulting, said education about this decision will be crucial. He called on wireless healthcare experts to help their facilities understand the implications and consider next steps.

“Specifically, this community needs to know why or how TVWS devices interfere with WMTS,” Berger said, referring to TW White Space, or spectrum used by unlicensed services. “This will lead to better understand what the community can do about it.”

Rick Hampton, wireless communications manager for Partners Healthcare in Boston, provided his wireless colleagues a summary of one FCC meeting about the ruling, and he warned that “things will get ugly” if provisions are not put in place that protect WMTS from these unlicensed devices.

The FCC’s decision is available at this link.