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FCC Chairman Challenges Private Sector to Accelerate the Next Generation of Wireless Health

by: Josh Gottheimer and Maya Uppaluru

June 15, 2012

Imagine a wireless sensor embedded in your gym clothes, so small and lightweight that it is barely noticeable, that tracks your heart rate and calories burned as you exercise and sends the data to your mobile phone.  Or a wireless heart monitor that warns a physician that her patient with congestive heart failure is experiencing severe symptoms, in time to intervene before an arrhythmia occurs. 

These and other wireless health care innovations hold tremendous promise to transform health care delivery, not only by revolutionizing the way patients manage their own care, but also by cutting costs and increasing efficiencies across our health care system. 

The U.S. spends about $2 trillion annually on health care expenses—17% of GDP and more than any other industrialized country.  Chronic disease management accounts for 75% of our total health system costs, and because of that, many wireless health devices are targeting this very aspect of health care.  Studies have found that remote patient monitoring reduced the risk of hospitalization by 47%, reduced hospital stay length, and reduced office visits by 65%.

This is good news for patients.  Arrhythmias, for example, account for about 50% of deaths for those with congestive heart failure; a wireless monitor can alert a physician and the patient before the condition becomes severe, even if the patient is sleeping or asymptomatic.  A monitored patient is twice as likely to survive a heart attack as an unmonitored patient.  Better health also translates to more cost savings—economist Robert Litan estimated that remote monitoring technologies could save as much as $197 billion over the next 25 years in the United States, largely through better management of chronic disease.

Last week, Chairman Genachowski hosted an mHealth summit bringing together leaders from the private sector, academia, and government, to discuss the opportunities and challenges of wireless health technology and create a plan for accelerating adoption.  For further information, see National Journal, Gigaom and The Hill

FCC Chairman Genachowski Speaking at mHealth Summit

The meeting followed the FCC action in May to dedicate spectrum for wireless monitoring sensors, or Medical Body Area Networks (MBANs), making the U.S. the first country in the world to dedicate spectrum specifically for wireless health devices.

This FCC action will spur innovation and the development of new wireless health technologies that lower health care costs, ensure better patient care, and provide more efficient delivery of health services.  For more information, see Wall Street Journal, CNN, and Reuters.

At the summit, the Chairman announced a plan to make it easier for researchers and entrepreneurs to test and evaluate new wireless health innovations, by cutting some of the red tape around experimental spectrum licenses, and creating an Innovation Zone license that allows pre-approved spectrum use experimentation in specified locations. 

Chairman Genachowski also emphasized the need for rigorous evaluation of new innovations, saying, “We need to ensure that new technologies are truly making a difference in people’s lives and transforming our health care system.  We need to go beyond the promise and potential, and emphasize rigorous evaluation and evidence-based innovations.” 

He challenged summit participants to research the roadblocks to rapid deployment of mHealth technology, and present a private sector-led plan to address those barriers. The summit included executives from companies such as Qualcomm, Medtronic, Phillips, and Verizon, who joined startups such as Telcare, MedApps, TheCarrot, and WellDoc, along with non-profits, doctors, and leaders across government, to discuss what can be done to foster mHealth innovation.   

This work builds on the FCC’s longstanding goals to expand connectivity and access to the next generation of health technology, including our unprecedented partnership with the Food and Drug Administration, our Rural Healthcare Pilot, and our adoption of rules to spur innovation in Medical Micropower Networks.

To learn more, watch the webcast, or read the Chairman’s remarks and the fact sheet.

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