In an order released on April 30, 2020, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) made more airwaves available for use by wireless devices that monitor patients’ vital signs. The agency long ago set aside spectrum for what technically is called the Wireless Medical Telemetry Service (WMTS) for use by systems to monitor critical vital signs such as oxygen saturation, blood pressure, respiration or fetal heart rates. These devices, used in thousands of hospitals and health care facilities, wirelessly transmit the information to central locations like a nursing station. The proliferation of these devices has begun to strain existing spectrum capacity, particularly at large hospitals or areas of clustered health care facilities.
To expand capacity and use of these devices, the FCC granted permission for a company, TerreStar, to use swaths of spectrum for which it holds a license and that sit next to existing airwaves dedicated for medical monitoring purposes. The company’s request to use its licensed spectrum for health care monitoring has been pending since 2016 and has been supported by the American Society for Healthcare Engineering (ASHE) of the American Hospital Association, GE Healthcare, and Philips Healthcare. The current coronavirus crises gave renewed impetus to the TerreStar’s request.
The additional spectrum will enable greater monitoring for more patients and with heightened data security. In addition to making more spectrum available, the FCC’s order permits use of these monitoring devices outside of hospitals and health care facilities, including use in temporary emergency facilities, nursing homes, ambulances and at home. TerreStar commits to provide spectrum capacity and frequency planning and coordination services, free of charge, to these expanded types of users during any future national public health emergency.
Monitoring devices will have to be modified to use this additional spectrum, which will take some time. The added capacity will thus not be available in the near term. Instead, the FCC imposes a timeline for equipment modification, certification and deployment. By July 30, 2023, however, TerreStar must demonstrate operational deployments of additional monitoring devise using its spectrum in at least 2,000 health care facilities nationwide.