With Apple selling 4 million iPhone 4S mobile phones less than a week into its release and putting together a potential run at the record for fastest-selling electronic device, ever, there’s a lot of news coverage going on. One of the lesser-discussed topics is the fact that the iPhone 4S is the first phone to support Bluetooth 4.0 and its Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) feature.
BLE support combined with the runaway sales could make the iPhone 4S the patient monitor of choice, pushing more mobile health IT initiatives beyond the walls of hospitals and doctor’s offices and into patient’s homes.
Last year, we sat down with the Bluetooth 4.0 special interest group’s leader Mike Foley, who predicted that health care would be a major beneficiary of the low-energy feature, as it enables the batteries in devices such as heart monitors and other patient sensors that use 4.0 to last much longer than previous versions of the standard. Bluetooth, he pointed out, also supports the passing of encrypted data, a foundation of creating HIPAA compliance with even the simplest patient monitoring devices.
There are several complicated technical matters to be settled before, for instance, diabetics can, via iPhone 4S/Bluetooth 4.0, push real-time blood sugar readings to their physician’s EHR system that monitors it for worrisome changes, sets off alarms and precipitates callbacks when they occur. First, vendors need to develop the systems and make them interoperable. Then, regulators have to figure out which elements of the system need to be safety tested. Finally, getting patients to use these tools — correctly — will involve motivation and training.
But the light at the end of the tunnel’s glowing, faintly. The question of “if we build it, will they come?” has already been answered with the 4 million iPhones hitting the market, and more blowing out the doors of Apple Stores daily. Then, there will be the iPhone 5, allegedly, coming out next, and it could be even more popular. It’s been built, they have come. The Bluetooth people think that all smartphones will support Bluetooth 4.0 by the end of the year.
The infrastructure’s in place. All we’ve got to do is prove that home monitoring systems can improve the quality of care and save money in the long run. Easy, right?