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'Body Area Networks' should free hospital bandwidth, untether patients

Lucas Mearian | June 5, 2012
Hospitals, whose Wi-Fi networks are clogged with clinician and patient data traffic, are getting some much-needed bandwidth relief with the FCC's approval of radio bandwidth spectrum for wireless medical monitoring devices.

Patient monitoring device manufacturers are heralding the previously-contested radio spectrum's approval because it will allow them to make products that only use one spectrum and do not need to account for other data moving across a common Wi-Fi network.

How a Medical Body Area Network works.

Anthony Jones, chief marketing officer for patient care and clinical informatics at Philips Healthcare, said his company is looking to release wireless upgrades to current wired products within a year.

One new product Philips is considering releasing in the next year is a wireless respiration monitor that would adhere to a patient's abdomen. Respiratory rate is a key indicator of patient health, but it's often only taken visually by nurses who watch for chest movement, Jones said.

"You end up getting a lot of incidences [that], if caught early, are relatively minor, but if not caught early, the patient can deteriorate very quickly and end up back in the ICU or worse, actually dying in the hospital from something that could have been prevented, like a heart attack," Jones said. "Take a patient in the general ward who suffers a heart attack. He has less than a 5% survival rate in the hospital."

But with the pressure to get patients discharged from a hospital more quickly these days, Jones said an even larger market for MBAN wireless devices will be at-home monitoring equipment for post-treatment and chronically ill patients.

Only a tiny fraction of ambulatory patients are monitored at home, Jones said.

"Vital signs are called 'vital' for a reason. They're good indicators of what's going on with the patient," he said.

A depiction of an MBAN wireless respiratory monitor.


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