Has Bluetooth already won race to connect medical devices?

By Brian Dolan
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Bluetooth

Has Bluetooth already won the race to wirelessly connect medical devices?

Currently, Bluetooth's Health Device Profile is the only wireless technology specification that the interoperability group Continua Health Alliance has included in its guidelines, however, last month the Alliance met in Spain to begin the process of deciding which other wireless technologies should be included. The group has yet to announce its decision.

If it were up to Nick Hunn, Vice Chairman at the Mobile Data Association and CEO of WiFore, chances are Bluetooth Low Energy would be the technology that Continua picks: Hunn's recently released report on Bluetooth's dominance in the wireless medical devices sector extols the many virtues of Bluetooth and explains in great detail the technology's many successes in the medical industry.

"To achieve success eHealth needs a critical mass of devices," Hunn writes. "Today there are just over 3 billion Bluetooth devices in existence. In 2011, there will be more Bluetooth devices than people. From the start of 2010, mobile phones will incorporate chips which support standard Bluetooth as well as low energy Bluetooth. No other wireless technology can begin to emulate this." 

Continua Health AllianceHunn seems to be pitching Continua at one point in his report -- an effort to convince the Alliance that Bluetooth Low Energy is the necessary pick for their other wireless health services guidelines: "The ability of the new generation of Bluetooth chips to support any Bluetooth medical device gives designers of mobile phones, PCs, Gateways and home medical hubs unrivalled power to build devices that can talk to any personal Bluetooth medical device," Hunn writes. "The twin standards of Bluetooth low energy and Bluetooth cover the full diversity of products that range from simple sensors in Assisted Living (which need battery lives of many years), to complex monitors that stream waveform data."

Bluetooth Low Energy will be competing with Sensium, the Zigbee Alliance, ANT+, BodyLAN (used in Nike+) and Z-Wave for the new Continua Alliance guidelines. Continua is looking to add guidelines for body worn health and fitness devices (LP-PAN) as well as guidelines for sensors that might be distributed throughout a home to assist remote monitoring (LP-LAN). The LP-LAN guidelines would include bed pressure sensors, motion detection sensors and so on. Proponents of Bluetooth LE claim it can handle both use cases.

By many accounts, Bluetooth Low Energy is the technology to beat. Should Continua pick a different one, it'd be a real upset.

In any case, Hunn's report on Bluetooth's role in medical connectivity is well worth the read for anyone interested in connected medical devices. If you are still unconvinced, remember connecting medical peripheral devices to the iPhone through Bluetooth just got the greenlight from Apple.

For more, be sure to read Hunn's white paper, Bluetooth: The Wireless Ecosystem for Health, Fitness and Assisted Living (via 3G Doctor Blog)

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