Bluetooth technology has become the wireless technology of choice for digital health devices – and for good.
"It's very easy to implement into a device, and there's virtually no cost, it's an open-source technology," Cliff McIntosh, CEO of Smart Meter, told MD+DI. “But if you talk to the patients and providers there are a number of pitfalls with Bluetooth technology, and we’ve heard it over and over."
Those pitfalls are the reason Smart Meter decided to go the less-common route and make its device for diabetes management cell-enabled instead of using a Bluetooth connection to transmit data from the patient's device to the physician.
First, McIntosh said, Bluetooth requires a lot of steps and multiple pieces. For a Bluetooth-connected blood glucose meter, for example, the patient needs the meter itself, a mobile phone, and an app.
"Then you have to figure out how to pair all the devices to that app, so it takes a lot of steps and it's very inconvenient," McIntosh said. "That translates to a lack of usage from a patient perspective. From a provider perspective, I now need to teach you about technology. I not only have to teach you about blood glucose monitoring, I now need to teach you how to pair, and download, and use your phone."
Second, there's a lack of compliance issue involved with using Bluetooth, according to McIntosh.
"The healthcare professional is not real sure if the information that's coming in is consistent and reliable," he said. "You, as the patient, may think you're paired and your information is going, but you may not have connected, you may not have had a WiFi connection."
Then, of course, there are connectivity barriers involved, McIntosh said, because the patient may not always have a reliabel WiFi connection so the data may not transmit reliably.
"It's just not timely," McIntosh said. "The data has to be real time. The provider is looking at trends and trying to drive preventative care and they don't know if the information came in today or yesterday or a week ago."
These are the reasons Smart Meter developed its iGlucose device to run off cell networks instead of Bluetooth. The device was cleared by FDA in 2017.
"Out of the box you take a test and that information is sent directly into the cloud via our cellular connectivity ... there is no teaching of technology," McIntosh said.
If the patient has ever taken a blood glucose test before they should already be familiar with how the test works, he said. "There's no WiFi, no Bluetooth, no pairing, no smartphone. It's simple for the patient."
McIntosh said many products that are cell-enabled today are adding an additional cost through a subscription fee, but the iGlucose is "co-pay level pricing."
Being cell-enabled also allows the patient to engage a wider circle of care, McIntosh said, so the patient's data can be sent to their family members as well as their healthcare professional.
While the company is careful not to offer medical advice, the technology does send out customized messages to the patient and their circle of care to let them know when their blood glucose levels are below the threshold that their doctor has set for them.
"Let's say you're a parent with a child at school or away at college ... this product, we've been told, alleviates that anxiety," he said.