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Uses for Bluetooth in healthcare include RTLS, indoor GPS

Bluetooth technology can be used in a hospital setting to provide patients with indoor GPS and the ability to receive information about equipment and medication.

Consulting group BCG estimated that the spending for IoT will grow to $267 billion by 2020. This is a clear indicator that organizations in different markets are likely to increase their adoption of the technology and further their investments in these connected devices. In healthcare, IoT has enabled clinical staff to have better visibility over patient data by bringing them more patient-generated data for monitoring and analysis. Since these devices rely heavily on wireless communication to exchange data with other systems, hospital IT departments will see an uptick in IoT interest.

Many wearable devices in healthcare today rely on wireless communication to transfer the data to a host system or other device. This method of communication makes it convenient for patients and hospitals by eliminating the need for loose wires and costly infrastructure costs. Connectivity requires either Wi-Fi or Bluetooth, and connecting smartphones is one of the preferred uses for Bluetooth.

When Bluetooth as we know it was first initiated in 1994, it was a wireless technology meant to pair a device to another compatible unit. Over time, the technology gained popularity and opened the door for smartphones and computers to connect to more gadgets and devices -- from fitness trackers and smart watches to wireless speakers and heart monitors. In healthcare, one of the uses for Bluetooth is providing patients the ability to wirelessly connect to some of their medical devices. Many uses for Bluetooth in IoT and other medical devices are seen when patients use a blood pressure monitor or heart rate.

In December 2016, the latest Bluetooth 5 standard was released and brought significant changes and enhancements along with it. The new protocol offers double the speed of data transfers, four times longer range and frictionless data exchange to support location awareness. These changes are predicted to increase IoT adoption and hospital IT can already preview the new capabilities in IoT devices and smartphones. Below are four uses for Bluetooth in healthcare.

More real-time location systems in hospitals

The latest Bluetooth protocol delivers a new set of features that can support real-time tracking of assets and devices using inexpensive Bluetooth Low Energy (Bluetooth LE) tags. When attached to medical devices -- and even patients -- these small tags can share location information with other devices that are within range. The new Bluetooth updates offer support for distances that are four times the range of the previous generation, reaching up to 400 feet in connectivity range.

Improved connectivity to medical devices

Recognizing the importance of the new uses of Bluetooth 5 features, popular smartphone manufacturers have also adopted the new Bluetooth protocol, allowing devices like the Samsung Galaxy S8, and the iPhone 8 and iPhone X to have the latest version of the wireless technology. This new upgrade will allow devices that are popular amongst hospital staff and patients to connect to more than one device at a time over longer distances. Bluetooth 5 capabilities like indoor GPS can help patients find their way in big hospital facilities.

Connectionless device communication

Another feature that is set to provide a meaningful change in the way devices communicate is the shift away from the app-paired-to-device model. In the past, when two devices were required to exchange data, they had to be paired -- this virtual handshake ensured that the correct devices were connected. However, with the new upgrade in the Bluetooth protocol, devices can exchange basic information like location or sensory information with each other without the need for pairing.

Richer data broadcasting support for devices

The new protocol will also allow devices that are using the latest wireless protocol to broadcast more data such as location details, multimedia files and URLs Over the air without pairing. Patients can use this capability inside hospitals to navigate and get more information directly to their smartphones. An example would be to automatically send notifications to patients when they are near an office or specific area within the hospital. It can also provide general details and educational info when they are close to a specific medical device or even medication.

With more wireless devices making their way to hospitals, IT departments remain concerned about their security and what potential new risks are being introduced by adding more connected devices. In recent years, an increase in attacks against healthcare continues to put pressure on IT to protect every connected device within their facility and keep ransomware and breaches at bay. The latest enhancements in Bluetooth will encourage more IoT adoption and uses of wireless connectivity to connect patients and staff to different devices. However, IT must stay vigilant and ensure that any new wireless technology implementation meets their security and compliance standards.

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