Bluetooth for Medical Devices: Academic Article Digests

Randy Horton
Randy Horton

We in the MedTech industry are hard at work creating Bluetooth-enabled connected medical device systems that help improve patient outcomes faster. But we’re not the only ones innovating with Bluetooth Classic and Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) in medical devices. Researchers and scientists are developing new applications for Bluetooth and new cybersecurity protocols that make medical devices more powerful and more secure.

This blog gathers select academic articles published within the last year that MedTech innovators can learn from. Join us as we highlight interesting ways experts are leveraging Bluetooth followed by a short analysis of how their findings may impact our industry.

Article #1:
“A digital bridge between brain and spinal cord restores walking after paralysis”

Source: Nature

What this article is about: Doctors from the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, Lausanne University Hospital and University of Lausanne, and Defitech Center for Interventional Neurotherapies in Switzerland, as well as contributors from France, the Netherlands, the UK and the U.S. created an implantable device system that successfully restored the walking capabilities of a paraplegic man with a decade-old spinal cord injury. This device used a novel “digital bridge” that transmitted brain signals from an implanted cranial device over Bluetooth and infrared to a processing unit worn on the patient’s back. The processing unit instructed an implanted spinal cord stimulator to interface with the neurons that control walking with a latency of less than 150 milliseconds, virtually restoring the patient’s own “natural control of movement”.

What we can learn from it: Bluetooth was part of a medical device system that helped a paraplegic walk again! Though the report had a sample size of one, we hope this technology can help other paraplegics in the future. The concept of the digital bridge is likewise fascinating. What other medical applications might it have?

Article #2:
“Neural network-based Bluetooth synchronization of multiple wearable devices”

Source: Nature

What this article is about: How do you synchronize multiple wearable medical devices over BLE so that they work together optimally? The authors of this paper, from the Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia in Genova, Italy, the University of Turin in Torino, Italy, and University Medical Centre Hamburg-Eppendorf in Hamburg, Germany have trained a neural network to “analyze and overcome” the “inevitable variations” in component medical devices used to monitor complex physiological data. In their own words: “Our work demonstrates an application-level solution for Bluetooth-based device synchronization without an undue burden on their hardware.”

What we can learn from it: Any innovation that improves the functionality of BLE medical devices is a welcome one. This technology could see application in synchronizing connected device systems with two or more component pieces, especially in the case of sensors capturing multiple physiological factors for diagnostic purposes.

Article #3:
“Soft, miniaturized, wireless olfactory interface for virtual reality”

Source: Nature

What this article is about: Researchers from the City University of Hong Kong and Hong Kong Science Park in Hong Kong, Beihang University in Beijing, China, China Special Equipment Inspection and Research Institute in Beijing, China, Shandong University in Jinan, China and Ningbo Institute of Technology Beihang University in Ningbo, China tested their concept of a wearable olfactory interface that generates odors in conjunction with virtual reality (VR), with the aim of creating a more immersive VR experience. The device used Bluetooth to wirelessly communicate between the olfactory interface and the computer running the VR simulation. This device could also be used in virtual learning environments, as an augmentative and alternative communication device and as a tool to help amnesiac patients recover memories.

What we can learn from it: It’s Smell-o-Vision! For VR! Though the article reports that the device – and its Bluetooth communication protocol – functioned as intended, it doesn’t conclude that users actually felt more immersed.

Article #4:
“Security and Privacy Assessment for Medical Technical Devices: A Playbook for Evaluating Cybersecurity and Privacy”

Source: University of Agder

What this article is about: A Master’s student at the University of Agder, Norway, as part of their Master’s thesis, proposed a guide for Norwegian hospital IT provider Sykehuspartner to help improve their cybersecurity and privacy practices for medical devices and medical equipment connected over Bluetooth.

What we can learn from it: We’re always trying to improve the security of our Bluetooth devices to safeguard sensitive information, and this masters’ thesis in cybersecurity may contain valuable advice on doing just that.

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Article #5:
“LAEBLE: A Lightweight Authentication and Encryption Mechanism for the E-Health System in Bluetooth Low Energy”

Source: IEEE

What this article is about: Researchers at the National Chung Hsing University in Taichung, Taiwan developed a new data authentication and encryption method for BLE-connected medical devices and sensors that improves upon the base speed and power consumption of BLE.

What we can learn from it: A cybersecurity innovation that is faster while using less power sounds amazing. The authors of this article specifically focused on remote elder care, but their work could have a positive impact on any BLE-enabled medical device.

Article #6:
“Secure Bluetooth Communication in Smart Healthcare Systems: A Novel Community Dataset and Intrusion Detection System”

Source: Sensors (Basel)

What this article is about: As healthcare is being transformed into “smart healthcare” by medical devices connected to the Internet of Things, there’s an increased need to guard against debilitating cybersecurity attacks. Researchers from the University of Qatar in Qatar, as well as from Washington University in Missouri, Jacksonville State University in Alabama, the University of Hertfordshire and Northumbria University in the UK, King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals in Saudi Arabia, and a medical services organization in Denmark created an Intrusion Detection System using Deep Learning to “autonomously detect and block malicious traffic and provide an end-to-end defense against network attacks.” They also created BlueTack, the first “intrusion detection dataset” for Bluetooth Classic and BLE.

What we can learn from it: MedTech is integrating AI and Machine Learning algorithms (like Deep Learning) into our Bluetooth-enabled medical devices to make them more powerful. This article proposes that the same technology can make our devices more secure, too.

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Looking to solve the biggest BLE challenges for your connected medical device? Orthogonal and MedSec’s joint Bluetooth Low Energy for Medical Devices Webinar Series shares best practices for the successful implementation of Bluetooth for connected medical device systems. Register to attend an upcoming webinar or join the mailing list for relevant content sent straight to your inbox.

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