Along with the announcement of Apple's third-generation iPad on March 7, the tablet is getting a wireless upgrade with Bluetooth 4.0 Smart Ready connectivity. Bluetooth Special Interest Group (SIG) announced the availability of Smart Ready technology for the new version of the Apple tablet, bringing new possibilities for remote-monitoring medical applications.
Made up of 14,000 member companies, Bluetooth SIG is a nonprofit trade association that publishes the Bluetooth specifications and manages the qualification program for the technology.
Apple's iPhone 4S and Motorola's Droid Razr are among the smartphones that feature Bluetooth Smart Ready connectivity, which the SIG introduced in the fall of 2011.
The new iPad is the first tablet to support Bluetooth Smart Ready technology. The current iPad 2 connects to Bluetooth 2.1 medical devices but will be unable to connect with new Bluetooth Smart Ready devices, Michael Foley executive director of Bluetooth SIG, told eWEEK.
An obvious difference in connecting Bluetooth devices to the iPad compared with the iPhone 4S is the tablet's larger HD display, which will allow doctors and patients to get a crisp view of medical readings and trends in data, said Foley.
"You can chart your heart rate," said Foley. "Being able to look at graphs over time on the iPad I think will be really cool."
Smart Ready technology features the low-energy technology and increased battery efficiency of Bluetooth 4.0.
The latest Bluetooth spec will allow consumer devices such as keyboards and mice to connect to the iPad first, but industrial medical devices will soon launch on the market that will connect patients and doctors using any type of Bluetooth device (4.0 or earlier).
"The initial wave has been consumer devices," said Foley. "The more industrial-strength devices in hospitals and doctors' offices are for the most part still on their way."
Patients will transmit vital data from glucometers, fitness sensors or heart-rate monitors to the iPad using Bluetooth. The Apple tablet then transmits the data to cloud health platforms such as Qualcomm's new 2net service or Microsoft's HealthVault using a WiFi, 3G or 4G connection.
In addition, Bluetooth medical devices are used to care for the elderly and monitor chronic conditions such as diabetes.
With medical data traveling from the Bluetooth device to the cloud by way of the iPad, caregivers and family can monitor and provide feedback, said Foley.
Smart Ready devices allow people to track their heart rate, distance, speed and elevation during a workout. Meanwhile, diabetics can connect their glucometer to mobile apps on the iPad to keep track of their blood glucose numbers.
Bluetooth SIG expects to expand the Smart Ready platforms to Windows 8 and Android tablets this year. Regarding adding Smart Ready to Android tablets, Foley said, "The Bluetooth software is out there, and people could do it, but to my knowledge nobody has done that yet."
Smart Ready peripherals incorporate military-grade 128-bit encryption, which could help keep medical information more secure during data transfer.
"Somebody can't eavesdrop and see your vital signs or whatever information is being transmitted to hospitals and doctors offices," said Foley.
Despite doctors enthusiastically using the iPad, it remains to be seen if software vendors will optimize clinical applications in time for the latest version of the tablet. In a Jan. 31 report, called "Point of Care Computing for Physicians 2012," the Spyglass Consulting Group found that software vendors have yet to invest in the software innovation necessary for the iPad to make a strong impact on care delivery.
As far as connecting medical devices on third-generation iPads, Bluetooth's Smart Ready technology holds promise for interoperability, suggested Gregg Malkary, managing director of Spyglass Consulting Group. "Bluetooth in the past was a nightmare," Malkary told eWEEK. The technology is now becoming more "seamless" and "consumer-friendly," he added.
Consumers will be able to buy Bluetooth medical devices at pharmacies and connect them to their iPad, said Malkary.