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Coming to a bedside near you: Body sensor networks

GE is developing wireless medical monitoring systems that could replace the traditional tangle of bedside cables used to capture a patient's vital signs.

GE Healthcare is developing a Body Sensor Network (BSN) that consists of sensor devices that collect patient-specific data, from body temperature and pulse-oximetry to blood glucose levels and respiratory function. The real-time information will be transmitted to doctors, nurses, caregivers, etc., to enable far more efficient body monitoring from any location, which in turn provides the most current patient information and treatment option evaluations.

The network that would support the wireless sensors monitoring what is going on inside a patient's body will be called the Medical Body Area Network Service, or MBANS for short.

GE's proposal (PDF) requests that the FCC allocate frequencies 2360 to 2400 MHz on a secondary, licensed basis for low-power, short-range, wireless medical devices such as BSNs. "These new frequencies will provide a protected spectrum for wireless medical BSNs and reduce the potential of interference from ubiquitous unlicensed radio devices such as Bluetooth, Zigbee, or Wi-Fi," according to their press release.

The FCC has issued a notice of proposed rulemaking for the MBANS, which has left GE positively giddy:

"GE Healthcare applauds the FCC's NPRM proposing to create a dedicated radio frequency band that will help remove a major obstacle to the adoption of wireless medical Body Sensor Networks," said Munesh Makhija, general manager of GE Healthcare Systems and Wireless. "We will continue to collaborate with industry, the FCC and other regulatory agencies to ensure the proper allocation of spectrum enabling next generation wireless monitoring devices."

Body sensor networks are a logical evolutionary step in monitoring health, as Nathaniel Sims, a physician at Mass General Hospital, points out. Moreover: "Body-worn sensors could free patients from the limitations of stationary bedside monitors, improving quality of care."

Furthermore, the need for easier, more efficient monitoring will only increase; the U.S. is expected to have a shortage of 1 million registered nurses by 2020, thanks in large part to our aging Baby Boomers, according to the Department of Health and Human Services.

Still, to me, there's something inherently eerie having such personal, revealing data about our physical selves readable by who-knows-how-many over such a network. Being confined to a bed with a multitude of hook-ups restricts mobility and comfort, sure, but this sophisticated monitoring has me wondering whether I'd use my newfound mobility toward its obvious end: throwing back Victory Gins at the Chestnut Tree.