Wearable medical devices have made a quantum leap by connecting our senses to sensors, unlocking countless potential across multiple market verticals. The consumer wearables market has expanded in scope and size over the last decade. Wearable devices, ranging from GPS watches for amateur sports to sleep-tracking bracelets, are revolutionizing how people monitor their health and fitness.
The continued progress of wearable technology is opening the way to develop enhanced communication and navigation systems. Perhaps the most exciting aspect of wearable technology is its potential in healthcare. Wearable healthcare technology is rapidly gaining popularity due to its simplicity and adaptability. Individuals have embraced wearable technologies that successfully monitor their vital signs, allowing them to forgo daily visits to their physicians.
As these devices become more sophisticated and capable of monitoring their users’ vital signs, the line between consumer and patient is beginning to blur. Not only are digital health tracking systems being utilized for general ‘wellness’ objectives, but also for illness management purposes — connecting people with healthcare experts and alerting them to potential problems.
Wearable technology is widely employed in healthcare for various purposes, including patient status monitoring and therapy delivery. This increased demand for wearables has created a thriving market, and insurers and businesses have finally realized the value of providing wearable health technologies to their consumers and employees.
Impact of COVID-19 on the Sector
The pandemic demonstrated the significance of smartwatches for health monitoring. Recent research has examined whether or whether the large data collected by wearable devices may be used to forecast the emergence of the virus. As COVID-19 expanded, wearables that measure blood oxygen saturation (SpO2) were widely available, alerting individuals to dangerously low SpO2 levels—a potentially fatal indication that is difficult for people to identify on their own.
Consumers who own smartwatches are increasingly using them to detect COVID-19 symptoms. Due to their required proximity to possible coronavirus patients, essential healthcare workers are the most exposed to coronavirus infections. Wearable technology may assist in these efforts through the provision of symptoms prediction, real-time remote monitoring, and contact tracing, among other functions.
Types of Wearable Medical Devices
Wearable technology advancements and customer demand for greater control over their health have prompted the medical industry, including insurers, providers, and technology companies, to develop more wearable devices such as Fitbits, smartwatches, and wearable monitors.
- Wearable Fitness Trackers
Wearable fitness trackers are one of the simplest and most innovative forms of wearable technology. They are bracelets equipped with sensors that monitor the user’s physical activity and heart rate. They can also be linked with various smartphone apps to give wearers health and fitness tips. The Fitbit Flex was an early and popular alternative for consumers interested in wearable electronics. The device’s stylish design and ability to measure users’ step progress throughout the day via the device’s five indicator lights drew users in.
- Smart Health Watches
Originally designed solely to track steps and indicate the time, smartwatches have evolved into clinically useful healthcare instruments. In 2017, Apple released the Apple Heart Study app, which monitors users’ heart rhythms and alerts those experiencing atrial fibrillation. Additionally, the company just launched the “Movement Disorder API,” which will aid researchers in gaining fresh insights into Parkinson’s disease. Smartwatches enable users to carry out functions commonly performed on their phones – reading notifications, sending short messages, and making phone calls – while also providing some of the exercise- and health-tracking features associated with fitness trackers.
- Wearable ECG Monitors
Wearable electrocardiogram monitors are at the cutting edge of consumer electronics, and what distinguishes them from some smartwatches is their capacity to measure electrocardiograms or ECGs. Companies are now creating devices capable of electrocardiograms, transmitting them to the user’s physician, and detecting atrial fibrillation. Additionally, they can track pace, distance, and elevation, in addition to providing automatic tracking for walking, running, swimming, and bicycling.
- Wearable Blood Pressure Monitors
Consumer demand for wearable blood pressure monitors is substantial. Companies investigating wrist-worn blood pressure monitoring are generally interested in one of two types of technology. PAT is the most often used method of blood pressure measurement without the use of a cuff. And several devices that employ this technique have already been approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The primary disadvantage of PAT is that blood pressure monitors equipped with this technology must still be calibrated regularly. Additionally, the arm cuff device is not well-suited for larger patients. Numerous health technology businesses are now investigating more convenient ways for consumers to monitor their blood pressure through wearable technology.
Biosensors are an emerging category of wearable medical devices that differ significantly from wrist trackers and smartwatches. The wearable biosensor from Philips is a self-adhesive patch that enables patients to move freely while collecting data on their mobility, heart rate, respiration rate, and temperature. According to Augusta University Medical Center research, this wearable gadget significantly reduced patient progression into avoidable cardiac or respiratory arrest by 89 percent. This highlights wearables’ potential to improve patient outcomes while potentially reducing staff workload.
Concerns About Data Security
Regarding data accuracy, advancements are occurring all the time, to the point where manufacturers such as Apple and Fitbit have begun to seek certification from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for some consumer sensor technologies. This, in turn, will increase doctors’ confidence in those devices. The takeaway is that if a technology company wishes to maximize the value of wearables data, it may be prudent for them to collaborate with individual physicians or health systems rather than attempting to do so alone.
Remote care delivered through telehealth and wearables became a critical component of health operations during the pandemic and is projected to remain a viable tool for physicians and patients going forward. The proliferation of wearables, along with a caregiver shortage, has created an emerging need for automated, real-time customized designs for in-home healthcare. Such designs necessitate expertise in managing chronic illness, surgical outcomes, post-discharge care, neurology, and emotional well-being.
The goal is to move toward more individualized care that empowers patients to engage in self-care, assists caregivers in supporting their loved ones more effectively, and enables clinicians to continue providing high-quality care at a lower cost.