Bluetooth could be a surprising answer for innovation in healthcare settings. Here's why.
Steve Hegenderfer, Bluetooth
Hospitals are fast-paced and hectic, providing vital services to hundreds of thousands of Americans every day. In fact, according to an American Hospital Association survey, 36.9 million people were admitted to registered hospitals in 2015, costing hospitals $678 billion in expenses. Rapid advancements in technology, however, offer hospitals new ways to improve patient care and operational efficiencies. So what innovative technology can hospitals use to better serve their patients and reduce costs? The answer may be more obvious than you think: Bluetooth.
The low energy and government-grade security features of Bluetooth make it an ideal technology for hospitals and Bluetooth functionality lends itself to a number of practical use cases, which will only be improved by the additional features of upcoming Bluetooth 5 and mesh technologies.
Let's look at each in more detail:
1. Low Energy
Bluetooth low energy functionality enables small sensors to run off tiny coin-cell batteries for months, and in some cases, years. This is what makes it possible for you to find Bluetooth technology in billions of devices, including Bluetooth beacons, and is what makes Bluetooth ideal for the myriad devices found throughout a hospital setting, like glucose monitors, blood pressure monitors, and even knee braces. With Bluetooth, hospital equipment can remain connected with little concern for battery life. And, in the case of energy harvesting Bluetooth chips, like those from Cyprus Semiconductor, Bluetooth sensors can be 'set it, and forget it' for life. In short, low energy means low maintenance which, in turn, means lower overhead costs.
|See Hegenderfer discuss medical device interoperability as part of a panel at BIOMEDevice San Jose, December 7-8, 2016.|
Bluetooth adheres to U.S. federal security regulations, ensuring that all Bluetooth devices are capable of meeting and exceeding strict government security standards. This includes advanced privacy capabilities and government-grade AES 128-bit encryption that meet both NIST and FIPS compliance. Bluetooth has implemented security and privacy standards while providing flexibility for a manufacturer to deliver the best security and user experience for any given implementation. This means that, throughout a hospital, Bluetooth can be the technology that connects all devices, no matter the security requirements. Devices can be networked, operations can be streamlined, and you can rest assured patient charts and other sensitive data will remain secure.
While low implementation and maintenance costs and advanced security are great, the technology is useless unless there are practical applications to back it up. With the capabilities afforded by Bluetooth, hospital use cases are limited only by the imagination. Two of the most obvious applications, though, are asset and patient management. Currently, expensive hospital equipment is tracked and managed by RFID chips or, in some cases, simple pen and paper. Both systems rely on a human to physically check in and out equipment. Realistically, a nurse running to get a crash cart in response to a cardiac alarm is not going to prioritize asset management over their patient. Using Bluetooth beacons, hospitals are starting to automate this system. Similarly, imagine if all patient ID bands were fitted with a Bluetooth beacon that would advertise their relevant chart and medical history to any physician that walked into the room. Imagine removing the wires from the dozens of devices connected to a patient. Not only would it be easier to treat a wire-free patient, but moving from room to room is also simplified as the devices in a room could be automatically synced with sensors on the patient. Now imagine creating an entire mesh network of equipment, patients, and doctors across the entire hospital where you could use a tablet to view a live map of the hospital and pull up the exact location of any device or person within the network at any given time. In this world, devices would talk to each other as well as patients and doctors at all times to relay constantly updated information to the right place at the right time. This is the vision for many people around the Internet of Things, and it will be enabled with Bluetooth mesh technologies.
While these Bluetooth applications may seem far-fetched, the truth is that consumers have already adopted this technology in their daily lives. The popularity of wearable devices is at an all-time high, with nearly every wearable device incorporating a heart rate monitor and some form of health tracking. Consumers are already using Bluetooth to monitor and track their health at home. And with experience in wearables and beacons, and with the advantages of low energy, security, and technical functionality, Bluetooth technology can help hospitals improve patient care and operational efficiencies. Considering the increased functionality of upcoming Bluetooth 5 and Bluetooth mesh technologies, paired with organizations like the Personal Connected Health Alliance and companies like Continua setting the standard for interoperable, connected health solutions, Bluetooth technology is set to become as prevalent in hospitals as it is in our daily lives.