Bluetooth gap delays OZ medical advance

An Australian medical technology company is being hindered by the lack of Bluetooth-enabled products on the market.

MicroMedical Industries, which supplies heart monitoring systems to ambulances and at-home patients via the GSM network, has been granted a new European patent for the development of wireless medical monitoring system using Bluetooth technology.

However, the company has put a hold on the development of the technology until Bluetooth-enabled products are available and "at a reasonable price". The company foresees this will not happen until 2002.

Jeff Fietz, associate director for PricewaterhouseCoopers, says that it will be a year or two before there will be "substantial penetration of the technology". A recent study by Frost & Sullivan stated Bluetooth products available in 2001 would be limited to PC cards, headsets and other add-on cable replacement products.

Bluetooth is an industry standard for short-distance wireless communications, or wireless PANs (personal area networks), which connects devices such as mobile phones, computers, and personal digital assistants with home and business phones and computers, at a maximum distance of 10 metres, at speeds of up to 1Mb/sec.

MicroMedical currently supplies a wired version of the system to many countries around the world, including a large US market.

The next generation of the monitoring system replaces the wired connection between the patient and an intermediary device by using Bluetooth technology and other wireless LAN technologies, in addition to GSM and 3G mobile phone networks.

Bruce Satchwell, chief technology officer for MicroMedical, said: "The use of these networks allows communication of vital medical information to assist in health management for medical emergencies in any location."

The technology can be used with patients with chronic diseases and offers a wireless link between the patient's monitor and the hospital, letting patients go about their normal daily activities.

"The wireless sensor is like an electronic bandaid that the consumer wears, which connects to a Bluetooth-enabled phone or computer." The information is then relayed back to a central monitor, usually housed at a hospital.

"Our receiving software [on the central monitor], includes an automatic interpretation system. It monitors incoming information and flags any problems and stores the information in a database."

Satchwell said doctors have access to the database information via the Internet or a WAP-enabled mobile phone.

The receiving software sits on a stand-alone system, but Satchwell said the system also links into the hospital's medical records system, with data received through the receiving system able to be transferred to the hospital's record system.

Satchwell said the company developed the system using Bluetooth technology as, although it is "quite expensive now", he expects it will be universal technology and "will become the standard in PDAs, mobiles and PCs in the near future".

The company has already found there is interest in installing the Bluetooth monitoring system in ambulances in the US.

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