FCC Chairman Announces Actions To Promote Wireless Health Technology

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The Federal Communications Commission will act on several key recommendations from a report by an industry task force promoting the growing field of mobile health, or mHealth, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski announced Sept. 24.

The chairman, speaking at an event hosted by the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, at which the mHealth Task Force report was formally released, said U.S. leadership in mHealth is not “inevitable,” and the recommendations in the report, if adopted, could make the United States the first country in the world “to figure all this stuff out.”

Among the first actions the agency will take, Genachowski said, is voting on an order to permit easier testing of mHealth devices, such as wireless sensors to monitor patients' vital signs.

Next, the FCC will vote on an order that Genachowski noted will “comprehensively reform and modernize” the agency's Rural Health Care Program, one of the four subsidy programs that make up the federal Universal Service Fund. One of the rule changes the commission will consider, he added, is permitting networks of hospitals and health care facilities to jointly apply for funding to boost broadband capacity and maintain electronic health records. The order also will call for “richer” data on broadband and telehealth to enable better targeting of fund subsidies, he said.

Genachowski said the FCC will schedule a vote on the two orders “by the end of this year.”

In action that does not require a vote, the FCC International Bureau will work to encourage foreign telecommunications regulators to make available additional spectrum for medical body area networks, or MBANs, which are small, wearable wireless sensors.

The FCC finalized rules earlier this month to allocate 40 MHz of spectrum--the 2360-2400 MHz band--on a shared, secondary basis for MBANs. Genachowski said spectrum-band “harmonization” internationally will allow patients to seamlessly travel across borders.

In addition, the FCC will recruit a permanent health care director, a position Genachowski noted will function as the “central point of contact to external groups on all health-related issues.”

Genachowski said his staff will present a plan for possible next steps related to other recommendations in the report.

“It's not that hard now to identify the concrete barriers that are slowing adoption and penetration of mHealth [applications],” Genachowski said. “We agree with the problems. Now what do we do about them?”

In June, Genachowski called on mHealth industry stakeholders to develop strategies for encouraging the spread of mHealth technology. The result was the mHealth Task Force, representing the health care technology industry, academia, and government.

The task force report is online at https://s3.amazonaws.com/www2.itif.org/2012-mhealth-taskforce-recommendations.pdf.

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