The Impact of Wearable Technology in Healthcare

By Harrison Bruce
healthcare wearable technology

How Wearables Might Help With Treatment, Monitoring and Procedures.

While wearable technology may seem like such a new thing, it is not that new. In fact, wearable technology has been in use for centuries having been first used in the Qing Dynasty during the 17th century. The device was a small ring that came with an abacus that was used as a calculator.

In the 1960s, Edward Thorp a mathematics professor created a small computer that could fit into his shoe that helped him cheat at roulette. Not long after came the calculator wristwatch, and then the Sony Walkman and on their heels came digital hearing aids.

earliest wearable tech
One of the earliest ‘wearable technologies’…

Over the years, wearables have come into the mainstream and have now found much use in health care. Hosting companies even offer special deals (click here to view some) to power medical devices that require server bandwidth.

In the past decade, many organizations have spent a lot of money coming up with wearable devices to help consumers get insights into their own health and doctors that of their patients.

Wearables are now widely used in health care and according to the Huffington Post, wearables should hit the 130 million mark in usage by 2020, and 150 million by 2027. It has become critical not only for doctors but also patients to collect health and body data using wearable devices such as Google Glass, smartwatches and fitness bands.

Professionals Are Adopting Faster Than Consumers.

However, it is quite interesting to find out that professionals particularly those working in health are more likely to warm up to wearables as compared to consumers. As such, the market is going to have a significant portion of healthcare practitioners such as nurses and doctors increasingly using a wearable to improve care for their patients. Here is how Wearable Technology in Healthcare is changing different aspects of the provision of care.

Remote Patient Monitoring:

Health care practitioners can now monitor their patients remotely and in real time through using wearable devices and technologies. Due to advances in IoT technology, the greater availability of open source frameworks and APIs, and diminishing cost of sensors, wearables have moved from the preserve of wellness to become an integral part of real-time patient monitoring.

There are many wearable assistive and diagnostic devices such as the Owlet baby monitoring sock to monitor sleep, heart rate and oxygen levels, or the L’Oreal UV sensor to measure UV exposure. These devices make it possible for the practitioner to collect and analyze valuable data that they can use to improve patient outcomes.

Knowledge Management:

Health care is benefiting from the vast amounts of data that health care professional now can get access to due to wearable devices. Such data makes it easier to analyze and discover correlations that can help manage medical conditions more effectively. For instance, with tiny wearable devices, doctors can track things such as daily calorie intake, physical activity and even fitness of patients in real time.

Technologies such as Google Glass can provide a surgeon with all the data about a patient stored in healthcare databases or online. It also allows collaboration between physicians without them needing to leave surgery to go browse through computers or call their counterparts at another hospital. Technologies such as Augmented Reality Glass can also be used to transmit knowledge to students. For instance, a surgeon can beam a live surgery procedure to thousands of students across the world from their AR.

Identity Management:

Identity management is critical to prevent medical errors, which is quite a huge problem in the West. Solutions provided by wearables include technologies such as RFID tags on printed wristbands. These typically contain all the healthcare records and data pertaining to a patient. Using such a system eliminates errors as clinicians may be required to scan patient wristband before taking them into surgery or prescribing medication. This ensures that there are fewer cases of making the wrong diagnosis and erroneous procedures such as transfusions which can negatively impact the patient’s wellbeing if misidentified. Reducing errors due to misidentification is not only good for the patient but also for the hospital as it can reduce malpractice costs.

How Patients and Doctors Can Use Wearable Devices

  1. Monitoring Activity and Daily Health
    Some of the common wearable devices include the Apple Watch, Garmin, and Fitbit which a lot of people have adopted to monitor their health. Consumers have been using these to track their sleep schedules, heart rates, daily steps and exercise levels for a few years now. As technology continues to develop, it has been reported that Apple Watches will soon be able to monitor glucose for persons suffering from type 2 diabetes. There are also companies such as MC10 which are developing wearables for cardiac monitoring and ECG recording. Consumers can thus use wearables not only to track their activity levels but also their health.
  2. Wearables for Monitoring Vitals
    Doctors and nurses are using wearables such as L’Oreal’s skin sensor to detects and prevent UVA and UVB exposure. They are using devices such as the Owlet baby monitoring sock to monitor vitals in babies who are in hospitals without needing to be physically in the room. They can keep tabs on patients’ conditions and vitals in real time from the nursing station, which increases efficiency by reducing time wasted in collecting and analyzing data.
  3. The Ability MyCite
    In 2017, the FDA approved a pill that comes with a sensor that can track if the patient has taken their medicine. This one of the biggest development in the administration of medicine for people suffering from chronic diseases such as diabetes and mental disorders such as schizophrenia. Adherence has always been a challenge when it comes to these conditions and this could be the solution that could solve the problem once and for all. Proteus Digital the maker of the monitoring system explained that the pill has a sensor which sends a message to a wearable patch. The patch then sends it on to a web-based portal or mobile app where caregivers and physicians can tell if the patient has taken their medicine. This can work for people with mental disorders who tend to stop taking their medication once they see an improvement in their symptoms.
  4. Zephyr Anywhere’s BioPatch
    Venture Beat was the first to report on the FDA approved monitoring device. It is a revolutionary device that is attached to the patient’s chest to collect and monitor their vitals every minute. This a huge improvement from other devices that could only take vitals every 4 or 8 hours. Once the BioPatch collects the vitals, it sends important information to the nurse’s smartphone so that they can prioritize the most critical cases.
  5. Google Glass
    While it never became the big hit that Google hoped it would be, it has found use as a health care wearable. The Glass Enterprise Edition is especially useful and has been used by companies such as Dignity Health. The company’s doctors wear the device and can talk to their patients from anywhere. The technology also performs many administrative tasks such as taking medical notes which is usually a huge time sink for doctors. The most famous use of the wearable was when Pierre Theodore, MD, did a surgical procedure with Google Glass. He got vital patient records and x-rays straight to the Glass so that he never had to leave the room.

The Future of Wearables Devices in Health Care:

Technologies are always improving and the price of sensors is also coming down. This means that wearable devices are likely to become cheaper, which would increase the pace of innovation and investment in new wearable devices. With wearable devices such as smart wrist bands and watches becoming more popular among consumers and Google Glass and other wearables such as the BioPatch gaining popularity among physicians, the future is bright for wearables. Conversely, with innovation costs going down, many more companies are getting into the space. The competition will likely result in more and better wearable devices in health care over the medium and long term.