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Bluetooth gets green light for health tech

The latest version of Bluetooth has been chosen by Continua Health Alliance, an industry group for health IT, as a preferred wireless technology for devices
Written by Sally Whittle, Contributor

The industry group that sets the standards for many telemedicine and e-health programmes has selected Bluetooth 3.0 as its preferred communications standard for devices such as actvity monitors and heart-rate sensors.

The new low-energy wireless technology specification will be included in Version Two of the Continua Health Alliance's design guidelines, which are used by technology companies such as Cisco, IBM and Panasonic, the group said on Monday. The new guidelines are due to appear in the first half of next year.

Continua has also selected another short-range wireless technology, ZigBee Health Care, to be used in low-power sensors such as motion detectors and bed-pressure sensors.

The announcement is good news for healthcare providers, because standardised devices will make it easier for NHS Trusts and other healthcare providers to incorporate wireless communications into patient care without worrying about interoperability, said Wes Rishel, vice president and distinguished analyst with Gartner Group.

However, users should expect a wait for standards to be finalised, Rishel told ZDNet UK on Tuesday. "The Bluetooth and USB associations don't have a great track record of standardisation because of the tendency to rush features out," he said. "The result in the past has been supposedly standardised devices that aren't interoperable."

Key features of the new Bluetooth 3.0 standard include improved security and throughput, added Jan Duffy, a research director with IDC.

"Where this will really make a difference is in things like remote patient monitoring and diagnostics," she said. "If you can monitor someone's heart rate using Bluetooth and a cell phone, that's fine. But if you can monitor heart rate, blood pressure, temperature and combine it with the patient's history, that's going to make the remote application far more efficient and compelling."

The Bluetooth Special Interest Group (SIG), the industry body that is overseeing the standard's development, expects devices using the new standard to be available before the end of 2009, executive chairman Mike Foley said in a statement.

"This underlines the need for a standard in the personal telehealth arena, and the longer battery life, extended security and wider connectivity of the 3.0 standard will enable thousands of new devices to be used in the healthcare industry," Foley said.

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