Bluetooth Smart to Gain Momentum on Medical Devices by 2016: Report

Bluetooth Smart, used on medical devices powered by button-cell batteries, will gain momentum over other wireless technologies despite a slow start for wireless monitoring, according to IMS Research.

With its low power consumption, Bluetooth Smart will be the dominant wireless technology on consumer medical devices by 2016 despite the reality that only 5 percent of medical devices have wireless connectivity at all as of 2012, IMS Research revealed.

In the report "Wireless Opportunities in Health and Wellness Monitoring€”2012 Edition," IMS found that more than 35 percent of all wireless-enabled consumer medical devices shipping in 2016 will feature Bluetooth Smart technology, yet only 9 percent of medical devices will feature any type of wireless technology at that time.

Bluetooth medical equipment has been slow to catch on in health care because of a higher cost over unconnected devices. Providers have been satisfied with viewing measurements from devices such as heart rate monitors without connecting them to other equipment, Lisa Arrowsmith, senior analyst for IMS Research, told eWEEK.

Health care organizations prefer the cheaper devices, she said. "A lot of them don't necessarily have the need to connect."

"The cost of a wireless consumer medical device is a lot higher than the standard [equipment] where you'd record your own measurements, so cost has really been prohibitive," said Arrowsmith.

Bluetooth Smart can be found on devices such as glucometers and blood pressure monitors and run on button-cell batteries.

More than 10.3 million Bluetooth Smart devices will ship worldwide between 2012 and 2016, and more than 4.7 million in 2016 alone, according to IMS.

The majority will be in Europe, the United States and some Asian markets, said Arrowsmith.

Bluetooth Smart devices collect vital data and then transfer the information to a Bluetooth Smart Ready device, such as a laptop, smartphone or tablet. These consumer devices can then transfer the data using cellular networks or WiFi to a cloud platform such as Microsoft HealthVault so that doctors can monitor a patient's condition.

The new Apple iPad and Samsung Galaxy S III are Bluetooth Smart Ready, and Windows 8 tablets will feature the technology.

Bluetooth Smart Ready is the new term for Bluetooth Low-Energy devices introduced by the Bluetooth Special Interest Group (SIG) in the fall of 2011.

Currently, the health care industry uses Classic Bluetooth and proprietary wireless systems, according to Arrowsmith.

"Longer term, device manufacturers want to move to Bluetooth Smart Ready because it does have a lower power consumption," she said.

Consumers also use Bluetooth in fitness to track heart rate, speed and elevation during workouts.

Bluetooth Smart Ready in consumer devices will enable medical equipment to connect to cloud platforms and mobile apps, according to Lisa Arrowsmith, IMS Research senior analyst.

IMS published the report in March 2012, and released its Bluetooth Smart data on June 25.

Ant+, an ultra-low-power 2.4GHz wireless technology, offers an alternative to Bluetooth, but consumers are less familiar with that wireless standard, said Arrowsmith. It may find a role in managed telehealth with the separate gateways those providers operate, she said.

Power consumption is a key consideration for health care organizations considering Bluetooth medical devices, said Arrowsmith.

Long design cycles and government regulations on medical devices will slow the move from Classic Bluetooth to Bluetooth Smart, according to Arrowsmith.

It takes 12 to 18 months for new medical devices to be approved for consumer use, she noted.

Editor's note: This story has been updated to clarify predictions on devices containing Bluetooth Smart in 2016.