To learn why the FCC has not been concerned about protecting public health or even acting in the public interest, see Norm Alster’s exposé, “Captured agency: How the Federal Communications Commission is dominated by the industries it presumably regulates.”
FCC OKs Use of Unlicensed Devices on Patient Monitoring Frequency
iHealthBeat, August 7, 2015
On Thursday, the Federal Communications Commission adopted a rule that will allow unlicensed devices to operate on the same frequency as hospitals’ remote patient monitoring systems, FierceHealthIT reports.
BackgroundIn 2000, FCC allocated the unoccupied television airwave Channel 37 exclusively for medical monitoring equipment after a 1998 incident in which a TV broadcaster interfered with a hospital’s low-powered heart monitors. Prior to 2000, hospitals had used other channels to operate unlicensed wireless patient-monitoring devices (iHealthBeat, 5/14/08).
The channel is used by devices that measure patients’ vital signs and other important health metrics.
Rule DetailsAccording to FierceHealthIT, FCC approved the rules allowing unlicensed devices — such as Bluetooth technologies, garage door openers and wireless phones — to operate on Channel 37 with the expectation that so-called TV “white space” frequencies are likely to become more limited.
In the vote, FCC said that unlicensed devices will not interfere with hospital monitoring technologies that use Channel 37 (FierceHealthIT, 8/6).
However, to ease some stakeholders’ security concerns, FCC added certain protections for providers that use the frequency.
Specifically, FCC said it will automatically extend protection zones around hospitals that file waiver requests. The expansion would be up to three times the normal 380-meter buffer zone (Allen et al., “Morning eHealth,”Politico, 8/7).
FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai, who proposed the additional protections, said the extended buffer zones would remain in place throughout the agency’s review of the waiver.
ReactionIn a statement, AHA Executive Vice President Rick Pollack said the adopted rules could negatively affect patients.
He said, “These unlicensed devices may cause interference with wireless monitoring, preventing doctors and nurses from receiving vital information” (FierceHealthIT, 8/6). He added that AHA is concerned “that if the rules … are left unchanged, patient safety could be compromised” (AHA News, 8/6).
AHA also noted that FCC’s compromise to grant buffer-zone extensions does not take into account that hospitals often lack the expertise to know when to submit a waiver (“Morning eHealth,” Politico, 8/7).
Prior to the vote, Sens. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) also expressed concerns about the use of the channel for unlicensed devices. In a letter to FCC, the senators asked for a three-month delay, saying it is “imperative that the commission establish fully adequate technical rules for sharing, as those rules will impact the safety and use of critical medical monitoring technology for hospitals” (AHA News, 8/5).
FCC vote allows unlicensed devices to operate on same frequency as medical monitors
AHA raises interference concerns before, after hearing
Dan Bowman, Fierce Health IT August 6, 2015
Unlicensed devices will be allowed to operate on the same frequency as wireless medical telemetry service systems for cardiac and fetal monitoring, after the Federal Communications Commission voted to modernize rules to “accommodate growing demand for … innovation.”
Despite protests from the American Hospital Association, three U.S. senators and 16 members of the House, the FCC insisted at its Aug. 6 hearing that unlicensed TV White Space devices–such as garage door openers, cordless phones and Bluetooth technologies–will not interfere with patient monitoring technology that operates on Channel 37.
“Wireless medical telemetry devices and radio astronomy services will continue to have interference protection on Channel 37,” FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said at the hearing. “Unlicensed users also gain access to Channel 37 in areas where these other two are not using it.”
The new rules were adopted based on the mindset that following the upcoming incentive auction, white space frequencies in the television band likely will be more limited.
While voting in favor of the new rules, FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai said he shares concerns expressed by the AHA and members of Congress. He proposed that whenever a WMTS facility determines that designated protection zones are not adequate to prevent harmful interference, those zones should be automatically extended up to three times their current size, following a licensee’s filing of a waiver request.
“Those extended zones will remain in place until the FCC can adjudicate the merits of the request,” Pai said.
AHA Executive Vice President Rick Pollack expressed concern about the FCC’s decision. In a statement issued after the vote, Pollack said the rules are not in the best interest of patients.
“These unlicensed devices may cause interference with wireless monitoring, preventing doctors and nurses from receiving vital information,” he 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. … The FCC did allow for an increased buffer, as advocated by Commissioner Pai; however, the commission ignored technical considerations in setting the distance and will require each hospital to demonstrate that larger protection zones are necessary.”
FCC SEEKS COMPROMISE ON WIRELESS INTERFERENCE
Politico, Aug 7, 2015
The Wireless Medical Telemetry Service (WMTS) is in the 608 – 614, 1395 – 1400, and 1427 – 1432 MHz range. WMTS spectrum is used for remote monitoring of a patient’s health. Wireless medical telemetry systems include devices to measure patients’ vital signs and other important health parameters (e.g., pulse and respiration rates) and devices that transport the data via a radio link to a remote location, such as a nurses’ station, equipped with a specialized radio receiver. For example, wireless cardiac monitors are often used to monitor patients following surgery.
FCC to allow unlicensed devices on same band as patient monitors
Joel M. Moskowitz, Ph.D., Director
Center for Family and Community Health
School of Public Health
University of California, Berkeley
Electromagnetic Radiation Safety