Bluetooth low energy – the Momentum Builds

It’s been a good week for Bluetooth low energy.  At times it’s felt like a long, slow path since it was first announced as Wibree in October 2006, but that feeling is changing as the standard is coming to completion.  This week saw the first Bluetooth low energy conference take place in Munich where chips vendors were showing off demos, whilst on the other side of the world, at the ARM Techcon in Santa Clara, there were more live demonstrations of the technology.

The mood of the industry has become increasingly upbeat.  It was noticeable in Munich that a significant number of companies have moved from cautious interest to being serious about starting to deploy it.  The questions that they are asking have changed to the practical ones of qualification and access to test equipment.  That change in mood was reinforced by the Bluetooth SIG announcing that the specification is on course to be released this December.  

The Bluetooth low energy standard can be confusing at first.  Although it carries the name Bluetooth, it is a completely new radio with a completely new protocol stack on top of it.   It has been designed from scratch to allow developers to add connectivity to products that only want to send small pieces of data on an irregular basis, but with such low power consumption that it can run on coin cells.  The companies attending the Conference in Munich have understood that difference and are keen to exploit the new products and service models that Bluetooth low energy offers. 

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We need a Manifesto for Consumer Health and Wellness

At the Continua Health Alliance summit in Boston this week, most of the speakers are talking enthusiastically about the amount of Government momentum for reform of the healthcare system.  Keynote speakers from all areas of the medical industry are telling us how things will change.

It’s not a new message, albeit it has been revitalised by the prospect of the Obama billions.  The physicians believe that they can heal themselves, or at least the system they work in.  So it came as a breath of fresh air to see a posting that popped into my inbox from Joe Macaluso on Real Health Reform.  It argues that the only way we will see any real reform is if it’s done by patients, without the support of Congress or the medical industry.

Over in Europe, the EU is running a debate on Consumers and Health, asking for contributions to a seminar in Brussels at the end of the month.  I’d been thinking about this for some time and had come to the conclusion that the most useful thing that the EU commission could do would be to look at how to change the regulatory playing field.  That’s necessary to let patient-based groups start to take healthcare and even prescribing into their own hands.  To achieve that I think we need a Manifesto for Consumer Health, that provides a safe environment for disruptive developments.  By coincidence I’d just finished writing my thoughts on that, which I was posting to the EU Consumers and Health site as Joe’s mail came in.  After reading Joe’s post, I’ve added a poll asking “Whether you believe that healthcare reform needs to be driven by patients, rather than medics or legislators?”  Please go and vote – I’ll post the result in a later blog.

So why do I think we need a manifesto..? 

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Will you still text me, will you connect me, when I’m sixty four?

Now that the networks are growing out of their teens, is it time for them to think about a market they’ve largely ignored?  Given the current pain that they are suffering from the youth segment’s bandwidth-obese usage of their “eat all you can consume” data plans, you’d think that they might want attract a target audience that offers the prospect of a more reliable revenue stream. 

There’s an important conference coming up in London on 26th October that promises to address the issues that have limited success so far – Mobile Phones for the Senior Market.  It’s important because there are some fundamental lessons to be learned and things that need to be changed if the networks are to approach the older generation with the same degree of attention that they currently lavishing on their twenty-something users.  The resulting challenges need to be addressed, not just by the networks, but also by product designers and retailers. 

The mobile phone business is now the largest volume segment of the consumer goods industry.  Despite that achievement, it is an industry that is still remarkably young.  It’s debatable whether it is actually mature enough to have addressed real segmentation yet – instead it’s still at the stage of development where it tends to concentrate most on customers of its own age – late teens.   That could be a costly mistake.  By ignoring the specific needs of older users, the mobile industry is missing a major market.

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Chip Jenga – Playing with Scotland’s Health

Every August I spend a couple of weeks at the Edinburgh Festival, taking in the best Arts festival in the world.  There’s not much to learn about healthcare amongst the 2,000 different productions, but it’s an interesting opportunity to look around the City to see how healthcare initiatives in Scotland are developing.

Scotland is an interesting country in terms of health, as it contains a number of anomalies.  At one end of the spectrum it boasts some of the best examples of Telecare and Assisted Living practice anywhere in the world.  In the middle are some excellent preventative initiatives.  And at the other end it has issues with lifestyle and diet that are propelling its population towards an increasingly unhealthy future

The issue of diet is a long-standing one that starts at an early age.  Whereas England is embracing chefs like Jamie Oliver who are leading high profile campaigns to improve the quality of school meals, Scotland largely ignores them.  If you’re in Scotland at lunch time, you’ll see queues of school kids outside the local chippies and bakers downing their daily intake of carbohydrates as they start on the route to weight related health problems.  For most, lunchtime means a trip to the local obesiary, which is typically Greggs – the chain of bakers who feed a large percentage of the population. 

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Usability through Dance

It’s August, so I’m doing what I do every year and spending a couple of weeks at the Edinburgh Festival, seeing as many shows as I can manage.  It’s rare to see much that says anything about technology or design, but this year I was blown away by a show that should be compulsory viewing for anyone concerned with product design.  Even more surprising is the fact that it was a dance piece.

ME (Mobile/Evolution), written and performed by Claire Cunnigham is about crutches.  Since a bicycle accident at the age of fourteen she has been using crutches.  Four years ago she took up dance and since then has rapidly gained fame as a disabled performer.  I should add that, having seen her, the adjective disabled seems utterly inappropriate, as what she manages to do far surpasses most people’s physical capabilities.

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FDA – mHealth’s Angel or Demon?

In the rush to get a chunk of Obama’s healthcare billions, any industry with the slightest idea about remote healthcare is doing their best to claim that they are the rightful recipient of the cash.  The latest of these is the CTIA, who recently held a policy forum featuring medical experts and government officials.  In it they touted the promise of mobile health applications that would drive down costs and improve the quality of care.  They admitted that they didn’t have a policy yet, but they certainly want a chunk of the action for their members when the $19 billion dollar treasure chest is opened.  They’re not alone, but amongst all of the feverish lobbying going on in Washington there seems to be a total neglect of the role of the FDA.  Instead there’s a general opinion that a good PowerPoint and drinks for enough politicians will overrule any regulatory requirements.

mHealth has been (and still is) a long time in coming.  There’s a whole host of reasons for that.  It’s trying to grow up in a room full of 800 pound gorillas, amongst them technology, resistance from the medical profession and a lack of standards.  But hiding behind the visible 800 pounders is the big brother of invisible gorillas – the Food and Drugs Administration, fondly know as the FDA.

The FDA is responsible for regulating medical devices and services in the U.S.  If they say a product or service can’t be offered, then it’s effectively dead.  It provides a barrier to entry for manufacturers and services in the medical and health arena.  So far, it’s had little to say about many of the visions of the mHealth industry, but there is no doubt that it will.  I recently saw a presentation that outlines just how wide its powers and scope are.  And they are wide.  If the FDA enforced the most aggressive interpretation of its rules it could probably stop sales of the iPhone today.

I’m sure it won’t.  This isn’t a rant against the FDA, but about the relative naivety of many of the organisations claiming to offer solutions in their quest for a part of the new healthcare pot.  The future of mHealth would be far better served if organisations like the CTIA concentrated less on the high level fanfares and started engaging in informed debate about how the regulatory regime needs to change.

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