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Bluetooth 4.0 will create smarter medical devices

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The Bluetooth standards body today added support for two specific data types in the Bluetooth 4.0 specification: the Health Thermometer Profile and the Heart Rate Profile. This will give rise to wireless devices that can help monitor and send health information from wearable sensors to smartphones and central monitoring systems, proving Bluetooth still has legs. Expectations for such health devices are high, predicted to be a $2.1 billion industry by the end of this year and worth $9.3 billion by 2014.

Here’s how these devices could work, according to the Bluetooth Special Interest Group:

Both the Health Thermometer Profile and the Heart Rate Profile were built to enable the wireless monitoring of body functions – in this case, body temperature and heart rate. While the Bluetooth SIG created the technology, its members, consisting of the leading health, medical and fitness device manufacturers, create the specific ways it will be used. For instance, one potential use case for the Health Thermometer Profile involves a thermometer patch that can send temperature measurements to a mobile phone every half hour to enable a parent to closely monitor the fever of a sick child without disturbing them

This development should squash the decade-old grumblings that Bluetooth is dead; ironically, it’s doing so by helping people live potentially longer. As my colleague Stacey pointed out in a recent GigaOM Pro article (subscription required) on the subject, the low-power wireless standard is finding its way into a number of connected consumer devices where data is only needed to travel short distances. Wearable health monitors, GPS devices and even today’s prototypes of tomorrow’s smart watches are all still leveraging Bluetooth.

I’m particularly interested in what devices will leverage these and other new profiles expected in Bluetooth 4.0: a profile to transmit blood pressure information is expected next month, for example. I run every single day (157 consecutive days and counting!) and currently carry my smartphone for both music and GPS tracking, for example. While I don’t yet use a heart rate monitor for my workouts, it’s something I’ve been considering, but I don’t want to add more power-hungry or bulky devices.

I’m expecting to see new wearable monitors with multiple sensors inside small packages that can help me track far more health aspects than today’s devices. Our mobile gadgets are gaining more sensors — think accelerometers, gyroscopes, and even barometers — but wireless standards to get that data in real-time is needed for instant feedback. Who knows, maybe the next cycle of Bluetooth-enabled sensors will actually help me improve the angle and length of my running stride.