iPhone 5 Lightning Dock Could Drive Medical Devices to Bluetooth

Apple's switch to an 8-pin Lightning dock in the iPhone 5 could push the health care industry toward adopting Bluetooth technology, despite the security risks of wireless technology.

The Apple iPhone 5's smaller dock could lead to a greater transition toward Bluetooth connectivity in medical device peripherals. During Apple’s Sept. 12 announced, company executives detailed how the new iPhone, iPod Touch and iPod Nano would use a 30-pin connector to an 8-pin connector called Lightning.

Users of remote medical devices that connect to the iPhone may have to switch to Bluetooth Smart, MobiHealthNews reported. Medical devices that connect to the iPhone include glucometers, heart rate monitors and fitness sensors.

The iPhone can act as a Smart Ready hub to connect Smart peripherals, which collect data on patient vital signs. From the iPhone, patients can send their medical data to their doctor.

The health care industry has work to do to prepare medical devices for wireless connectivity, according to data IMS Research released on June 25.

Only 9 percent of medical devices will feature any type of wireless technology by 2016, IMS reported.

More than 35 percent of all wireless-enabled consumer medical devices on the market in 2016 will feature Bluetooth Smart technology, according to the research firm.

The health care industry hasn't adopted Bluetooth equipment in large numbers due to cost, Lisa Arrowsmith, senior analyst for IMS, told eWEEK in June.

A Lightning to 30-pin adapter will cost $29. Apple will add Lightning-to-VGA and Lightning-to-HDMI cables in the coming months, an Apple spokesperson told eWEEK in an email.

"This adapter lets you connect devices with a Lightning connector to many of your 30-pin accessories," Apple stated on its Web site.

With Apple reporting on its site that "some 30-pin accessories are not supported" by the adapter, that could leave some medical devices not able to connect to the iPhone.

Still, despite this message on the Apple site, medical devices should work fine with the the 8-pin design if medical device users purchase the adapter, according to Shahid Shah, CEO of IT consulting firm Netspective Communications and author of the Healthcare IT Guy blog.

"Medical devices could connect to micro USB or the new Lightening design with equal ease," Shah told eWEEK in an email.

Although many reports stated the iPhone would come with a 19-pin connector, the new Lightning dock has an 8-pin connector.

"I think the connector reminded everyone of how vulnerable they were to Apple, or any vendor with a proprietary connector,” Rob Enderle, principal analyst for the Enderle Group, told eWEEK in an email. "This will likely [lead] to a higher focus on standards with particular emphasis on wireless technologies, which don't require a physical connector."

In the health care and defense industries, using wireless technology to connect devices to mobile could cause interference and bring security concerns, Enderle noted.

"However, this Apple reminder will undoubtedly get more people focused on using wireless where it is more acceptable and more companies focused on making wireless more acceptable where it now isn't," Enderle added.

Apple's move to the 8-pin connector could give Apple a boost in accessories licensing, Shah noted.

"The reason Apple went with their proprietary design is that it gives them more control to influence the accessories ecosystem," said Shah. "It affords them more license revenue for the accessories, and lets them control the design of connectors and accessories in the future."

The move to the 8-pin connector will benefit Apple rather than health care IT, according to Shah.

"The main impacts to health care IT in the short term will be negative—having to purchase dongles and special connectors will increase maintenance work, and the costs will be significant," said Shah. "It's great for Apple, but not for health care IT."

Including a micro-USB connector would have eliminated a need for extra accessories to connect medical devices to the iPhone, Shah noted.

"While Apple claims that its performance is superior to the old 30-pin connector, it's unclear that the performance will be better than USB 3.0," said Shah.