CHA News Article

FCC Considering Proposal That Would Allow Harmful Interference With Wireless Patient Monitors
Urge FCC not to allow unlicensed devices to operate at the same frequency as medical wireless telemetry

In 2000, at the urging of the American Hospital Association (AHA), the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) dedicated a portion of the radio spectrum for wireless medical telemetry devices, such as heart, blood pressure, respiratory and fetal monitors. The creation of the Wireless Medical Telemetry Service (WMTS) was a direct result of hospitals’ advocacy, which included concerns about how electromagnetic interference with wireless medical telemetry equipment can affect patient safety. Since then, available wireless spectrum has become scarce, and momentum around sharing the previously protected spectrum is growing. The FCC is currently considering rules that would allow unlicensed devices to operate on the same frequencies as hospitals’ WMTS. Because this is a nationwide issue, CHA is joining AHA and the American Society for Healthcare Engineering (ASHE) in asking hospitals to help convince the FCC to put patient safety first and reject all proposals that do not ensure interference-free patient monitoring.

ASHE has drafted a model letter, available for download from its website, to the FCC explaining how its decision could adversely impact patients and patient safety. Please share the letter with your organization’s clinical and biomedical engineers, facility management professionals, critical care physicians, nursing leadership, risk managers or administrators. Ask them to customize it for your organization, and send it to the FCC as soon as possible.

The issue of WMTS gained national attention when a Dallas TV station, testing a digital television transmitter, knocked out low-powered heart monitors at Baylor University Medical Center. Fortunately, no patients were harmed; however, this disruption placed patients at risk and could have resulted in serious injury or death. Since 2000, the use of WMTS has steadily increased, and there are now more than 360,000 WMTS patient monitors in U.S. hospitals.

For more information about the FCC’s upcoming decision, contact ASHE Senior Executive Director Dale Woodin at dwoodin@aha.org or (312) 422-3812.

Commands