WASHINGTON, July 28, 2010 – Experts gathered at the behest of the Federal Communications Commission and Food and Drug Administration to give the investor and research and development perspective at the agencies’ public meeting on enabling the convergence of communications and medical systems.
“The communication landscape is changing very rapidly,” said Peter Ko of Ericsson, and all experts agreed that wireless communications was going to be prevalent in the medical field.
Each panelist represented different medical technology manufacturers, and each had concerns about security and the spectrum needed for the wireless network.
The biggest debate was where to get the spectrum needed by devices to transmit their data.
Some, like Ko, believed that current wireless carriers could be used to transmit this data. “You let an ambulance pass you on the street,” said Ko, talking about how mission-critical data could be sent with priority over regular messages.
Dale Wiggins, chief technology officer at Phillips, said more dedicated spectrum was not the correct approach to wireless medical networks.
Reallocating spectrum to the medical field would fragment currently allocated spectrum even further, he said. On the one hand, allocating spectrum would ensure interoperability and insure that messages would not be interrupted. However, allocating spectrum would also mean that there would be more micromanaging by government agencies, and it would take valuable spectrum from the private sector, he said.
Neal Seidl of General Electric Healthcare warned of the potential for interference in a medical environment. People walk into a hospital without realizing they have radios and cell phones with them, devices that can cause interference.
Beyond interference, the interoperability of devices is a concern. With different manufacturers, if the devices they create don’t all work together lives could be at risk, he said.
David Hankin of the Alfred Mann Foundation said dedicated spectrum would get crowded easily, and shared spectrum was probably the answer.
Wireless communication, and technology in general can only be so secure. Hankin also said preventing the nefarious use of all of this new information would be a major concern.
Kevin Fu of the University of Massachusetts said in the computer systems field there is no system that is secure, only systems that have not been broken yet.
How this information is going to be moved and secured is an issue that will need to be addressed by the FCC and FDA, he added.
In a discussion concluding the event, Julius Knapp, chief of the office of engineering and technology for the FCC, said there is a lot of work to be done, but the meeting was a first step.
Bakul Patel of the FDA's Center for Devices and Radiological Health said the meeting was just the beginning, adding that there are activities the agencies are sometimes not going to be able to tell the public about, but that they were going to be as open as possible.
The two agencies plan to meet shortly to digest the information gathered by the two days of panel discussion.