FCC nails down medical telemetry frequency; Huestis’ Walsh takes a breather

FCC nails down medical telemetry frequencies

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) established a final set of frequencies and rules for wireless medical telemetry devices on June 8, after more than two years of campaigning by industry groups.

The newly-established frequencies (see chart) complete efforts that first gained national attention when a digital television station in Dallas hit the air on Feb. 28, 1998, and began interfering with monitoring equipment at Baylor University Medical Center. While no patients were adversely affected in Dallas, the incident lit a spark that motivated the FDA, FCC and industry groups to resolve the issue.

The American Hospital Association (AHA) expanded upon the patient monitoring industry’s Critical Care Telemetry Group with a task force that added hospital and regulatory agency representation. Its report to the FCC in September 1999 recommended creating dedicated medical telemetry frequencies. After review, the FCC agreed and allocated 14 MHz of spectrum to medical telemetry equipment with its June ruling.

Part of the new spectrum will be shared with radio astronomy users on a co-primary status. Other frequencies are former government bands reallocated for non-governmental use.

Mary Beth Savary Taylor, director of executive branch relations at the AHA, praised the groups and organizations that worked together on the task force, including manufacturers, broadcasters, hospitals, the FDA and FCC. Taylor said the AHA is now preparing material to help its members make the transistion to the new telemetry bands.

The FCC order created a three-year transition period. Manufacturers have two years to change the frequencies used by their products and hospitals have an additional year to purchase new equipment and implement any needed changes.

Taylor said the three-year transition period should accommodate most hospitals because, according to a previous AHA study, most of the medical telemetry equipment now in use is five to seven years old and will need to be replaced within three years anyway.

Dedicated frequencies are a huge step towards eliminating interference with wireless patient monitoring devices, but Taylor cautioned that there is no guarantee that an individual hospital won’t experience isolated interference problems, such as in the band shared with radio astronomy users. While problems are not expected on those frequencies, the FCC rule gives radio astronomy precedence over medical equipment because they were in the band first.

“My understanding is the power both of us use is very compatible, so there shouldn’t be any problems,” said Taylor. “We know exactly where they function, but certainly if it has to be revisited, we will do that.”

One AHA recommendation being mulled by the FCC is the request for a national frequency coordinator to maintain a database of all wireless medical telemetry equipment being operated in the U.S. The recent FCC ruling stated one or more coordinators will be named at some point, but a timeframe for that appointment was not established.

Huestis makes changes as Walsh takes a breather

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