Information technology  

Bluetooth group targets interoperability of medical devices

30 May 2006

Bellevue, WA, USA. The Bluetooth Special Interest Group has formed a Medical Devices Working Group with the objective to  enable health-related devices to work with consumer electronics products.

This team, made up of 19 member companies including IBM, Intel, Motorola, Nonin Medical, Philips Electronics and Welch Allyn, will work together to create and ratify a Bluetooth Medical Device Profile that will expand the use of Bluetooth technology into the medical, health and fitness markets.

The new profile will ensure a comprehensive, yet easy, user experience and optimized interoperability between health-related devices and personal consumer electronics products such as mobile phones, PCs and PDAs where Bluetooth technology is already common.

“Health-related devices in the home, such as weight scales, blood pressure monitors and exercise equipment, which implement the new standard will be able to send information wirelessly to Bluetooth enabled PCs or cell phones so that users can monitor their health information or share this information with a doctor or fitness coach anywhere in the world,” said Robert Hughes, chair of the new Bluetooth SIG Medical Devices Working Group and a senior wireless standards architect in Intel’s Digital Health Group.

“The Working Group believes it can make a difference in the lives of people, especially those with chronic conditions or those striving to improve their fitness, by creating a Bluetooth profile that enables medical, health, and fitness devices to better connect patient with provider. In addition to helping people lead healthier lives, it represents a powerful business opportunity for companies creating Bluetooth enabled devices in a large and growing market segment.”

The Working Group will begin work immediately, drafting the specification this year with the new profile available for use in devices in the first half of 2007. The completed profile will run on all current versions of Bluetooth technology including the future high-speed version. Although Bluetooth enabled medical devices currently exist, the method of Bluetooth communications used is proprietary and therefore not usually interoperable with devices from other manufacturers.

“With the price of healthcare continually rising, the need exists to cut medical expenses. Many of the use cases supported by the Medical Device Profile will minimize the need for costly hospital visits and enable early detection of potential health problems reducing expensive treatments,” said Michael Foley, PhD, executive director of the Bluetooth SIG. “Because of its worldwide availability, existing pervasiveness in mobile phones and laptops along with low power, low cost and security features, Bluetooth technology is ideally suited for medical devices that will provide a better quality of life for patients while reducing the cost of healthcare.”

The cases the working group plans to support with the Medical Device Profile fall into the following primary categories:

  • health and wellness management: by using a Bluetooth-enabled device such as a blood pressure cuff, weight scale or cholesterol monitor, the user regularly collects health data that is then wirelessly transmitted to another Bluetooth device such as a mobile phone, PDA or health appliance and could then be sent to the patient’s caregiver for remote monitoring and health management of the patient.
  • chronic disease management or patient recovery: using a Bluetooth sensor, a chronically ill patient can measure their vital health indicators on their own or with their caregiver via a Bluetooth computation engine (PDA, PC, mobile phone, etc.).
  • medication management: a patient can receive reminders to take medication using a Bluetooth medication dispenser. If the patient has not taken medication after several reminders, an alert with the time and the medicine missed can be sent to their caregiver who can take the appropriate action.
  • fitness and workout tracking: the user is able to monitor fitness goals by tracking health data during a workout with a Bluetooth sensor such as a calorie counter, weight scale, or heart rate monitor. Data is then wirelessly transmitted to a Bluetooth computation engine (PDA, PC, mobile phone, etc.) where the user can track his or her progress relative to their fitness goals.
  • remote biosensor measurement – With a Bluetooth medical kit connected to a set-top box or PC, patients can have their health status checked from the comfort of their own home by conducting a phone or video visit with their caregiver. Once the information is gathered it is then transmitted to the caregiver in order for the patient’s health to be monitored.

Additional use cases may include remote monitoring of multiple patients, seamless device replacement and support for clinical trials. And as with any medical and health application, the Medical Device Profile will be compliant with the US Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) and other international data privacy requirements.

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