Wearables – The New Revolution in Digital Health


Padma Govindarajan
@pgpadma
Wearables – The New Revolution in...

We are living in an era where smartphones have become an essential need for daily life tasks. The ease of carrying a powerful communication device with extensive computing capabilities has allowed several players to exploit the smartphone technology market and provide an array of consumer benefits. The smartphone revolution and its explosive consumer demand gave rise to companion devices such as smart watches, activity trackers, virtual reality devices etc. and a much wider consumer adoption of wearable technology.

Wearables

The concept of ‘wearable devices’ has been around since the 13th century, starting from the invention of eye glasses. In 2000, when the Bluetooth devices gained more popularity, there was a rise in demand for wearables so much so that the year 2014 was termed as ‘the year of wearable technology’. Over the years, wearable devices have evolved from calculator wrist watches to today’s popular Apple watches and FitBit trackers.

When the Apple watch was first launched in April 2015, it was touted to be the next big thing in technology and expected to match the success of other Apple products. Limited battery life, manufacturing roadblocks and security issues slowed down the pace of consumer demand for Apple watches. Meanwhile, wearable devices like the Smart glasses, Fitness trackers and Wearable cameras have gained significant popularity in recent times.

Initially marketed as a fashionable device, wearables have slowly shifted to find meaningful usage in other areas. The wearables industry is still expanding and is open to innovative ideas with possible usage in several economic sectors. According to a forecast of wearable shipments worldwide by Statista, it is estimated that around 124.9 million units of wearable devices will be sold just in 2018.

Wearables are now creating a breakthrough in the Healthcare and Medical industry.

Medical Wearables

The global health awareness and active customer participation in keeping up with fitness trends has created a sizeable market for Fitness Trackers. They are easy to wear, portable devices that track numerable metrics such as number of steps taken, sleep quality, heart rate, blood pressure etc.

Medical wearables go beyond the capabilities of Fitness Trackers or Smart Watches. They are designed to function as robust devices that can gather real-time patient data and have continuous monitoring capabilities for diagnosing chronic ailments.  The data collected from medical wearables can also be used for predictive analytics.

Unlike Fitness Trackers, medical wearables are required to undergo FDA Class II certification owing to their intended usage in clinical diagnosis. These devices are driven by health more so than fitness, but can offer both and act as a catalyst for improving the lives of consumers.

  • Preventive Care

Warning signs and undesired patterns can be identified from analyzing the gathered data from these medical wearables. This can be useful in reducing the risk of diseases. For example, a pre-diabetic patient can utilize Glucose Monitors to check their glucose levels and improve their lifestyle to prevent the onset of diabetes.

This proactive approach has enabled early detection of adverse health conditions and allows preventive measures to be implemented.

  • Patient Treatment

Medical wearables allow the transmission of health data from the patients to physicians, on a regular basis. Providers have access to monitor patient health through real-time data collected on a daily basis. In case of any undesirable patterns, providers can intervene on a timely basis and communicate with the patient to start treatment. Earlier, this would involve a physical visit to the hospital or clinic, lab tests and long wait times before the next physician consultation to detect anomalies.

The use of medical wearables will facilitate improved patient treatment and appropriate medical intervention for timely treatment.

  • Medical expenditure

Medical wearables contain sensors, feedback mechanisms and data processing as well as transmission capabilities. The amount of data collected will enable physicians to remotely monitor patient health without the need of lengthy hospital stays.

This also allows physicians to share feedback directly to patients and thereby, reduced the need for routine office visits. The cost savings will benefit both patients and insurance providers.

The Road Ahead

Despite a plethora of advantages, the market for medical wearables still remains limited in comparison with the explosive sales of Activity Trackers and Smart Watches. The idea of preventive care using medical wearables has considerable limitations.

The amount of data generated from these wearable devices may not all be useful from a clinical perspective. In addition, the accuracy and consistency of this data is still being contended.

It is important for wearables to create useful data for diagnosing health conditions. Medical data security, privacy and integrity must be adhered to in addition to the FDA requirements.

Perhaps, the creation of a regulatory framework for patient data collection and transmission through wearables will allow companies to safely invest in this technology.

The potential benefits of using wearables far outweigh the challenges. In the coming years, medical wearables will play an indispensable role in improving patient health.

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