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Bluetooth Wins Wireless in Healthcare

Wed, 09/30/2009 - 3:45pm
Michael Foley, Bluetooth SIG

Healthcare has been the topic of much debate in the political arena of late and much talk in the technology world. One would expect to see new ways of tackling healthcare with technology while visiting the upcoming CTIA Wireless I.T. & Entertainment show as the mobile phone is positioned to become the center of home health monitoring as well as preventative healthcare methods, like better fitness programs. And the wireless technology those phones will be using? Bluetooth low energy, not ZigBee.

Earlier this year, the upcoming Bluetooth low energy wireless technology specification was chosen by healthcare industry coalition Continua as its choice for wireless technology in the next version of its product design guidelines. Already, the current version of the Bluetooth specification is the only wireless technology included in the coalition’s current guidelines.

Continua evaluated numerous wireless technologies before choosing Bluetooth technology. If you’ve read the Continua press release, you might be left with a sense of confusion as to why ZigBee technology was also mentioned.

Michael FoleyLet me clear that up: Continua chose Bluetooth technology for solutions and products that are aimed at home health and fitness monitoring, and for applications in the telehealth arena. There are countless devices – 20 million in the market place already – that use Bluetooth technology to enable health and fitness monitoring. Continua’s selection of Bluetooth low energy will serve to enhance the many existing and expand the number of new health and fitness monitoring applications and devices that are available to consumers. Bluetooth technology will make it easier to use devices such as mobile phones, heart monitors, scales and the like to connect and send data to your doctor’s office or other concerned party.

Remember the “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up” commercials? That’s the scenario – the one scenario – for which ZigBee was chosen. It’s an important product – by all means if my grandmother falls down at her nursing home, I insist that she be able to say so and receive immediate attention. But this type of alert isn’t something you can use in mobile phones or PCs or handheld devices or any other mobile or telehealth application that the health care system may create. It’s a solution that is designed to stay in a fixed spot and cannot travel with you or be used in a huge range of devices – that’s where Bluetooth comes in.

Bluetooth technology is the only wireless technology that permeates the personal devices we use every day. It just makes sense that Bluetooth technology would be the ubiquitous choice.

Bluetooth low energy wireless technology will enable many applications that add convenience to our everyday lives. These include those we have heard about for years: mobile payments and home automation, and the list goes on and on. While those applications are very exciting, I believe we have the opportunity to do more with Bluetooth low energy. We have the opportunity to enhance people’s lives by transforming health and wellness – healthcare is not just about treatment, but prevention.

Perhaps this subject is nearer to me as Americans tend to lead in the unhealthy lifestyle category. Many of us live sedentary lifestyles and eat too much and I, personally, have fallen prey to the overabundance trap. While Bluetooth low energy technology will not change people’s long learned habits overnight, it will clearly raise awareness.

It’s no secret that healthcare costs have spiraled out of control. The medical industry is challenged with delivering high quality care while at the same time reducing costs – very current and very conflicting goals that haven’t yet been resolved. Bluetooth low energy technology will transform this industry by helping to resolve these conflicts, whether through fitness on the prevention side or monitoring on the treatment side.

It is well documented that patients heal much more quickly in familiar surroundings than in hospitals. However, patients are also generally non-compliant. They often fabricate information before visiting the doctor, which results in diagnoses being made without correct information. Bluetooth technology will allow for transparent remote monitoring of patients. Imagine patients recovering comfortably at home no longer having to fill out journals regarding the medication they take or record details of their exercise routines.

With the introduction of Bluetooth low energy technology, record keeping will be automated such that it is always accurate. Doctors’ offices will be able to remotely monitor the information being collected to catch abnormalities early, before a patient is in dire condition.

Bluetooth technology will also enable doctors to monitor their patients – working with them to make sure they don’t become patients. In my own life, I could capture my exercise, weight and other information and then share the details with my doctor, all via my Bluetooth mobile phone. Together, we would use that information to develop a personal wellness plan that is based on real data about my individual performance and trends. A real prescription for wellness that will help me live a healthier life and, over the long term, reduce the cost of my healthcare.

While it is always great to work on technology that adds convenience to consumers’ lives, I believe the greatest legacy for Bluetooth technology will be how it improved people’s lives by enhancing their fitness and healthcare and ensuring they receive the best possible level of care if they do fall ill. I look forward to watching my prediction take shape.

Michael Foley is the executive director of the Bluetooth Special Interest Group.

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