by Brendon Nafziger
, DOTmed News Associate Editor | May 18, 2012
Patients in intensive care units are typically festooned with a mass of monitoring wires, leads, pads and electrodes. Not only is this an infection control hazard, which some researchers estimate costs the industry billions in treatment expenses, it's also a hassle - both for the patient and the doctor.
"My problem is I can't even get my stethoscope on the chest anymore. There's no room," Dr. Richard Katz, director of Cardiology at George Washington University Hospital in Washington, D.C., told reporters at a press conference at his hospital Thursday.
But one day soon, some of this could change.
The Federal Communications Commission is meeting next week to decide whether to allocate part of the wireless spectrum to Medical Body Area Networks, or MBANs, wearable, wireless sensors that read patient vital signs. If it goes through, the U.S. will be the first country in the world to give space on the spectrum to the patient-monitoring technology, the FCC said.
"It's a big deal, and we're just at the beginning," said FCC chairman Julius Genachowski.
At the conference, Genachowski was joined by executives from GE Healthcare and Philips Healthcare, companies that are working on developing and deploying MBANs.
The technology is made of wireless sensors that can be attached to the body and record heart rate, ECG, blood pressure, temperature and other vital signs. The sensor communicates with a paired device also worn on the body or located at a nearby hub, the FCC said.
According to its backers, it has several possible benefits. For one, better treatment is possible at the hospital. Patients having a heart attack who are monitored have a 48 percent chance of surviving, according to an FCC fact sheet. But for unmonitored patients, the facts are grim.
"Almost half of all beds are unmonitored, and a patient who suffers an unwitnessed heart attack in a general ward has less than a 1 percent survival rate," explained Anthony Jones, chief marketing officer for patient care and clinical informatics with Philips.
Also, by monitoring patients at home, doctors could intervene at the first sign of trouble, before a patient's condition became worse and required emergency, and more expensive, interventions.
Plus, there are those infection control savings. According to the FCC, disposable sensors could save up to $11 billion nationwide every year by preventing hospital-acquired infections.
"By opening this new wireless spectrum," said Mike Harsh, chief technology officer with GE, "patient care and disease monitoring will be revolutionized in the not-too-distant future."
The FCC will hold its open meeting to decide the fate of the MBAN spectrum allocation on May 24.