While wearables such as smartwatches and other lifestyle accessories have been around for some time, over the years with the size of hardware shrinking, companies have started to create wearable healthcare devices. These include sensor technologies that collect a range of variables that can be used to monitor or track a person’s health.
Smart weartech refers to healthcare wearable gadgets that can be worn by humans to track a range of health indicators, including the ebb and flow of brain waves and glucose levels among other things, which can be controlled through a mobile app. With new technologies such as IoT devices, these smart wearables support not only medical professionals but also improve patient outcomes, saving lives in the process.
As per data from MarketsandMarkets, the market for wearable tech will be worth $56.8 billion by 2025. Market analysis by Grand View Research estimates the global market size of wearable medical devices at USD 13 billion in 2019, which is expected to increase at a compounded annual growth rate of 27.9% by 2027.
Some applications of smart weartech to help in solving healthcare challenges
The emergence of several cutting-edge technologies over the years have helped to solve some of the issues with IoT and devices such as battery life, making it more dependable for use in healthcare applications.
Exposure notification systems
With the use of Bluetooth, smart weartech devices can exchange anonymous identifiers with other devices in the vicinity, thereby allowing hospitals or other healthcare facilities to log a contact with another device when it is within a specified distance. It can help in tracking a patient’s exposure to a virus. These devices can also track other variables such as temperature or other symptoms to help in monitoring the threat of contagion.
Remote monitoring of patients
Besides monitoring and notification of potential exposure and its corresponding threats, these devices also help to monitor noncritical indicators, thereby saving precious time for healthcare professionals. For instance, wearables such as patient tags, badges, rings or wrist bands can track a patient’s vitals such as temperature, blood pressure and heart rate remotely, allowing healthcare professionals to focus their efforts on patients who need critical care.
Tracking equipment or machines
Hospitals find it quite a challenge to track the location of medical equipment and machines, as these assets are often not replaced immediately after use, resulting in the hospital staff wasting their time trying to locate the equipment when they need to use it. By using beacons or sensors to tag these assets, the location of equipment can be easily traced, thereby saving time and lives.
On-site navigation of healthcare facilities
In large hospitals, navigating the facilities can pose a challenge, specifically since GPS features on smartphones don’t work indoors or help in locating a particular room. By placing smart beacons in various locations inside medical buildings or facilities, patients can use an app on their smartphone to navigate through the building instead of waiting for medical staff to assist them.
Benefits of using smart weartech in healthcare
Healthcare smart weartech offers a range of benefits to medical professionals and patients alike in aspects such as prevention and maintenance of health conditions, more efficient patient management as well as disease management.
Disease prevention and health maintenance
- With the advances in technology, smart wearables can find several applications in monitoring patient health and providing timely intervention to prevent disease. For instance, in countries, with a large ageing population, providing preventive intervention for risks such as falls, which result in hospitalization or death, can be challenging. Smart wearables can help by monitoring and analyzing data such as gait analysis to detect disruptive patterns that are likely to result in falls and providing intervention to prevent it from occurring.
- The sedentary behavior that is an outcome of modern lifestyles affects a person’s health adversely. Smart weartech can be used to issue reminders to exercise or check one’s posture, thereby having a positive impact on a person’s well-being.
- Stress detection can help in monitoring mental conditions by measuring physiological indicators such as heart rate, blood pressure and temperature, among other vital signs. It can help to identify when a person needs medical or clinical intervention
- While wearable devices are already widely used in sports for monitoring and tracking heart rate and activities, their application can extend to sports medicine. Tracking and monitoring indicators such as exhaustion, detecting heat stroke, or even an athlete’s recovery rate can prevent the risks of overtraining, thereby improving performance and minimizing injury.
Healthcare wearable devices can help to make patient management more efficient in hospitals by remote monitoring of several categories of patients to improve their health outcomes.
- In many cancer survivors, sedentary behavior and physical inactivity are common, which can lead to obesity and negatively impact their long-term recovery. By providing intervention through reminders to increase physical activity and reduce sedentary behavior, these devices can make home-based rehabilitation more effective.
- For patients recovering from strokes, smart weartech can remotely monitor their vitals and activity, providing feedback to therapists. It can help in reducing the costs of treatment and hospitalization as well as support the process of a home-based recovery.
- By remote transmission of physiological data to healthcare providers, wearables can help patients recovering from spinal-cord or brain injuries rehabilitate at home while they improve their motor skills.
- Patients suffering from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease require long-term rehabilitation and management. Smart wearables can provide a cost-effective option for rehabilitation by monitoring and sharing the patient’s vitals as well as their progress on exercise assignments.
- For managing heart disorders, wearable devices offer several possibilities, including devices that monitor ECG, heart rate variability and heart activity monitoring systems. The advantage is that it monitors the patient’s heart activity outside the clinical environment and during everyday activities to provide a more accurate picture of the patient’s condition.
- Wearable devices such as blood pressure sensors, upper arm pressure monitors and remote monitoring technologies can help in improving the management of hypertension. Besides continuous monitoring of blood pressure and alerting healthcare providers if there is a need for intervention, these devices can also help with simple daily tasks such as medication reminders.
- For patients with diabetes, wearable devices paired with apps can facilitate self-care through monitoring glucose level from sweat, thereby reducing the cost of healthcare.
- The long-term management of Parkinson’s disease requires the collection of several sources of data that aid in diagnosis. For instance, the 10-second whole-hand-grasp is one of the criteria used to measure the severity of bradykinesia – one of the primary symptoms of the disease. Smart weartech devices can help in recording kinematic data for preventive intervention and measure the effectiveness of treatment in the home environment.
- Healthcare wearable technology can also assist with screening, diagnosis and monitoring of patients with psychiatric disorders, such as depression, by using variables such as Heart Rate Variability (HRV) to measure and monitor mood states to provide intervention when needed.
Challenges of Smart Weartech in Healthcare
The success of healthcare variables in providing an inexpensive and more efficient alternative to hospitalization depends mostly on how well users will accept these devices in both the clinical and home environments. The advanced sensor technology that can monitor the patients' vitals and other variables are of no use if patients, and healthcare professionals, do not accept them.
From a patient’s perspective, these devices should be compact, comfortable, easy to use and maintain so that they do not affect the person’s daily life. Healthcare professionals should see the benefits of these smart wearables assisting their daily tasks and improving efficiency instead of posing a threat of replacing their services.
Privacy and security
Since these wearables collect a wide range of data from an individual, patient confidentiality and data security remain among the major concerns, especially with the need for compliance with HIPPA regulations.
Besides the need to encrypt data before transmission and implementing keys or certificates for authentication, secure WBAN communications are essential for the prevention of eavesdropping or interruptions since the data is transmitted over wireless networks.
While smart weartech offers the opportunity of measuring and customizing an individual’s experience in social and home environments, they also raise several ethical concerns. For instance, the methodology used to gather data and variables for conceptualization and interpretation might be intrusive and often unauthorized.
The risk of too much data
Whereas wearables offer the benefit of the collection of vast amounts of personalized data from patients, they also present the risk of too much data or noise being generated. Some of the data might be irrelevant or redundant, thereby providing spurious data or complicating the process of clinical decision making.
How wearable health tech devices are redefining the future of healthcare
Despite the challenges that they are likely to face until they gain wide acceptance among users, over the past few years, some healthcare wearable devices are demonstrating how they can contribute towards making healthcare systems more efficient. Let’s take a look at how smart weartech can transform the future of healthcare:
Personal EKG devices
These pocket-sized portable devices can record several heart health variables and detect tachycardia, bradycardia, atrial fibrillation and heart rhythm and transmit the data to a smartphone within 30 seconds, allowing medical professionals the opportunity to review the patient’s condition instantly.
Women’s health and well-being
Wearables can provide insights into several variables related to a woman’s health, from tracking period cycles and fertility to monitoring weight, sleep quality and stress during pregnancy.
These wearables, which are attached or worn against a patient’s skin, are non-invasive. They record a wide range of variables such as heart rate, HRV, respiration rate and ECG, which can be transmitted to medical professionals for analysis and diagnosis.
In situations where hospital beds are in high demand, the prospect of remote monitoring of patients who do not need critical care can reduce the burden on hospitals and healthcare facilities. Wearables designed to monitor and track patients’ movements, activity and vitals remotely and then transmit the data to medical professionals provide better outcomes for both patients and healthcare providers.
Undeniably, wearable healthcare devices are paving the way for the future of healthcare. With more and more companies and startups working on developing advanced devices and technology that can reduce the current challenges of smart weartech and make them more sophisticated and reliable, these devices could help in minimizing human intervention unless critical.
Through automating routine processes and the collection of health-related variables that can be used for monitoring, diagnosis and intervention, these wearables can make healthcare more efficient, thereby benefiting both medical professionals and patients.
TechAhead has experience in developing mobile and web apps for healthcare companies and startups. Our team has expertise in creating IoT solutions that reduce human intervention in healthcare as well as the automation of healthcare processes that help in making the system more efficient.