Nonin Medical Hopes to Blaze Trail for Bluetooth Low Energy in Medical Devices

Posted in Mobile Health by Jamie Hartford on November 2, 2012

The company hopes a pulse oximeter expected to launch early next year will be among the first Bluetooth low energy–enabled devices to market.

Nonin Medical was among the first manufacturers to introduce a Bluetooth–enabled medical device to the market with the release of its 4100 Patient Module OEM wrist-worn pulse oximeter, in 2004. Now the company plans to again lead the industry with a pulse oximeter that incorporates Bluetooth low energy technology


 “It is definitely one of the primary [wireless technologies] we’re looking at,” says Mark VanderWerf, vice president of ehealth and OEM for Nonin Medical. “With so many options available, Bluetooth low energy appears to be emerging as one of the winners.”

Bluetooth low energy is a feature of Bluetooth v4.0, the newest Bluetooth Core Specification, which was adopted by the Bluetooth Special Interest Group (SIG) in July 2010. The first smartphone equipped with the technology, the iPhone 4S, was introduced in October 2011, and the Bluetooth SIG hopes it will be incorporated into most phones by the end of the year.

Nonin, a member of the Bluetooth SIG, was interested in Bluetooth low energy before the specification was released. The company is also looking into other wireless technologies, such as Zigbee, VanderWerf says.

“But we see Bluetooth low energy as having a lot of the same advantages and maybe some added advantages as well,” he says.

VanderWerf says Nonin Medical sees three primary benefits from Bluetooth low energy: simplified pairing, reduced energy demand, and lower cost.

“The biggest thing will be just the simplicity of integrating devices in the field,” he said. “Bluetooth low energy works with Apple—that’s a big advantage—and Microsoft Windows 8 is going to support it as well.”

But the technology also comes with challenges, VanderWerf admits, including the lack of an application programming interface for Android.

“I understand that’s going to be rectified soon, but the sooner, the better, because we’d like to integrate to a lot oot of companies that prefer using Android,” VanderWerf says.

Blazing the trail for Bluetooth v4.0 in pulse oximetry also has its disadvantages.

“We know we’re early adopters, and being early has its unique bridges to overcome,” VanderWerf says. “We’re going to be doing a lot of the footwork and fundamental writing of a profile for pulse oximetry—that has been the challenge.”

Still, VanderWerf says Nonin Medical is optimistic.

“We’re pretty excited about Bluetooth low energy,” he says. “We think that it really resolves some of the issues with Bluetooth Classic, and we think it’s a superior radio solution.”

Jamie Hartford is the associate editor of MD+DI. Follow her on Twitter @readMED.


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