All the Vital Signs Are Good for Mobile Health Sector

Carl Weinschenk

Things seem to be going pretty well in the mobile health sector, so it is reasonable to wonder if the government getting more fully engaged will be beneficial or not. Or, in other words, if it isn’t sick, don’t treat it.

The feds of course are involved in mobile health care in a number of ways simply by the fact that they are the government. That involvement, however, may be on the verge of deepening. In late September, as reported by InformationWeek and a number of other sites, the Federal Communications Commission announced that it is taking several steps, including the creation of the position of health care director. The story has all the details. At the highest level, the goal is to act as an organizing influence over the burgeoning field:

Recognizing the potential to transform healthcare through these burgeoning technologies, the FCC plans to expand broadband connectivity and advance the use of mobile devices, wireless health technology, and medical body area network (MBAN) devices, which will accelerate opportunities to use mobile technology in patient care. MBANs are used to monitor patients wirelessly, providing physicians with real-time patient data while giving patients mobility and greater independence.

MBANs are particularly intriguing. On Sept. 11, the Federal Communications Commission released final rules on their deployment. They become effective on Oct. 11.

MBANs, according to this story at the American Medical Association news site, will enable folks who previously needed to be tethered to a machine in order to be monitored to roam free. The spectrum allocation is in the 2360-2400 MHz band previously used for flight testing.

Setting aside spectrum is necessary, the story says, simply because the explosion of devices could create congestion situations in which this vital data doesn’t get through. The annual savings just in getting people away from hospital beds is estimated to be $1.2 billion. The real savings in both money and in the emotional well-being of patients is no doubt far greater.

Mobile health care is not without its challenges, however. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report that outlined the security risks of wireless medical devices. Suffice it to say that there are a few: This story on the report at Network World has 10 bullet points, from low battery capacity limiting security features to an inability of some devices to update or install patches. The GAO is calling on the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which is part of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), to beef up security requirements, the story says.

There is no question that mobility is changing health care. Here, for instance, is an edifying and nicely done infographic at Mashable that looks at the impact of smartphones on health care. The bottom line is that mobility is changing health care, as it is everything else. It is a special trend — both in how important it is and the special care and feeding that it needs — and of course one that should be encouraged. The government must be involved, and the steps it is taking seem to make sense.



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