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Something to Sink Your Tooth Into

The day has been inching ever closer, but it seems as though the time has finally come for medical device OEMs to cut the cord.

Building on the momentum generated from Bluetooth's success in consumer electronics, wireless technology experts have set their sights on the medical industry as their next conquest. Advancements in Bluetooth technology, coupled with a concerted effort to optimize the technology for medical applications, are priming the industry for a wireless future--and it's an exciting one at that.

In 2006, the Bluetooth Special Interest Group (SIG) launched the Medical Devices Working Group, composed of 19 companies ranging from Motorola to Welch Allyn. The mission of the team was to create a Bluetooth Medical Device Profile and enhance interoperability between medical devices and Bluetooth-enabled consumer electronics. And this initiative is already enabling results. Nonin Medical Inc. (Minneapolis), for example, recently introduced the world's first wireless pulse oximeter, which can interact with other devices through the Medical Device Profile protocol. And this product is just one of what is sure to be a parade of wireless products to come.

Although the number of Bluetooth-enabled devices is growing, one barrier to widespread wireless conversion has been the problem of power consumption. A solution, however, could be available as early as this year. Wibree, Nokia's buzzed-about wireless networking technology intended to be a low-power complement to Bluetooth, was absorbed into the Bluetooth SIG last summer and finally made its debut. Attendees at the April Continua Health Alliance event in Luxembourg were privy to the first public demonstration of ultralow power (ULP) Bluetooth. CSR plc (Cambridge, UK), a provider of personal wireless technology, showed off the dual-mode ULP Bluetooth silicon, pointing out that while it retained the security and low cost of the technology, it transferred data 50 times faster than standard Bluetooth. This also translates to 1/50th of the power consumption--a feat that many speculate will enable the ULP version to run up to 10 years on one button cell battery.

Low power consumption for the wireless sharing of data could have a tremendous impact, furthering the potential of Bluetooth-enabled medical devices. ULP Bluetooth will most likely facilitate progress in the field of telemedicine. Remote management and monitoring devices equipped with Bluetooth capabilities could transmit small amounts of data from the patient to a healthcare provider's Bluetooth-enabled PC or cell phone. As a result, patients can rest assured that they are receiving care while enjoying mobility and the comforts of their own homes. Hospitals can offer care without the cost of housing patients.

Bluetooth promises to continue to alter, and potentially improve, the way that patients receive care. As Bluetooth proves its worth in the medical sector, OEMs should be evaluating their current products, as well as thinking about those in the pipeline, to see if Bluetooth is a feasible option.

Go ahead: embrace the wireless revolution already in progress.

Shana Leonard, Editor
Copyright ©2008 Medical Product Manufacturing News
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