Wearable technology in healthcare has come a long way from its humble origins in the 1700s with the wristwatch’s invention. Today, wearable technology can come as a watch, a ring, a pair of contact lenses: a patch, or even a tattoo. The commonest wearable technology in healthcare by far, for now, are fitness sensors and smartwatches.
The global chronic diseases like Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), Diabetes, Hypertension, Dementia, and various behavioral conditions mean that the relevance of wearable technology in healthcare is bound to grow.
What is Wearable Technology?
Wearable technology (or wearables as they are popularly called) refers to any device worn close to the body that can detect, analyze and transmit information. Wearable technology has been applied in navigation, clothing, security, fitness, and healthcare.
How is wearable technology helping people stay healthy?
Wearable technology is helping people stay healthy in many ways. One of its foremost uses is in the prevention, detection, and management of chronic diseases. Depending on the disease condition, wearable healthcare technology could be vital for prevention, treatment, or management. Some of the chronic conditions benefiting from wearable health technology are:
Worldwide about 422 million people have Diabetes. Over 34 million of them are in the United States of America. Diabetes is the seventh leading cause of death in the United States and accounts for over $327 billion in direct and indirect costs.
Traditionally, the management of Diabetes has involved finger pricking to test for blood sugar with a glucometer. However, a new type of wearable healthcare technology is being developed that will sense glucose levels in the body through body fluids like sweat, eliminating the need for needles.
Other devices currently available or in development for diabetes management include continuous glucose monitoring devices, insulin pumps, and patches.
Hypertension is one of the leading causes of illness and death worldwide. In the US, almost half of the adults have the condition. Wearable health technology has been successfully used to detect hypertension.
Using wireless smartphone-connected upper arm blood pressure monitors, cuff-less blood pressure sensors, and remote monitoring technology, wearable technology can improve blood pressure monitoring and medication adherence.
They can also make it easier for doctors to manage their patients and monitor their progress.
Psychiatric and Psychological Conditions
Over 50 million Americans are living with psychiatric conditions. Wearable health technology can assist with screening, monitoring, and diagnosing psychiatric disorders.
Wearable devices can analyze responses to emotionally relevant stimuli and automatically recognize a person’s mood. They can also help people detect and manage stress. They can also help children with autism to detect and manage their emotions better.
What are wearable health devices available?
There are several wearable health devices available and many more in development. Some of the devices available now are
These are some of the most widely available wearables. The first fitness trackers have their origins dating back to the 1700s. However, the modern fitness tracker has its roots in the pedometer designed by Dr. Yoshiro Hatano in 1965.
Since then, fitness trackers have evolved into a global staple for athletes, sportspeople, and anyone interested in getting and staying fit. The personalized data they collect help doctors monitor activity levels and provide customized care.
Currently, most fitness trackers are worn on the wrist, but the fitness tracker’s future could be quite different. One of the ideas being explored is taking the trackers off the wrist and onto the fingers. The fitness trackers of the future might be more like rings and less like watches.
Smartwatches are one of the popular types of wearable health technology. Smartwatches can monitor your physical activity, pulse, heart rate, and sleep. They can also link you to apps that can improve your fitness, diet, and mental health. The information they gather can help your doctors plan your care.
The smartwatches of the future are expected to have more features that are optimized for specific conditions. Smartwatches with features that specifically track female health, Diabetes, and sleep apnea are expected to become the norm, not the exception. Already, scientists have developed a smartwatch that can track medication levels.
Electrocardiogram (ECG/EKG) monitors are the latest addition to wearable vital sign monitoring technology devices. ECG monitoring help people monitor their heart health and can help people detect strokes before they occur.
An electrocardiogram records the electrical activity of your heart. Most wearable ECGs rely on a single-lead probe, significantly less effective than the gold standard twelve leads used in the hospital. Even so, wearable electrocardiograms have helped detect heart attacks and strokes before they occur and have saved many lives.
Many wearable EKG monitors are incorporated into wearables and fitness watches. EKG wearable’s future will be making them more effective and reducing the rate of false-positive readings they give.
Blood Pressure Monitors
Blood pressure monitors are a relatively new addition to the wearable healthcare technology catalog. The first wearable blood pressure monitor was launched in 2019. Blood pressure monitors are essential for the detection and management of hypertension. Over time they have evolved to become smaller and more sensitive.
Recently scientists developed a blood pressure monitor that is a patch worn on the neck. The future of blood pressure monitors will involve making them smaller, more effective, more comfortable, and more acceptable to users. The Swiss company Aktiaa just released a stylish bracelet for monitoring Blood Pressure 24/7 without even having to think about it.
Biosensors are the newest additions to the wearable technology world. Biosensors are devices that detect a biological element using a transducer and a biosensor reader.
Biosensors are incorporated into wearable technology such as shirts, eyewear, wristbands, rings, patches, and even tattoos.
They are handy for detecting problems with breathing, gait (falls), posture, and stress. In the future, Biosensors will undoubtedly improve the quality of life for many patients with chronic conditions.
In conclusion, the future of wearable technology in healthcare is bright. Wearable technology is expected to reach more people and has more disease prevention, detection, remote patient monitoring, and treatment applications.
The devices are expected to become smaller and more efficient. Artificial Intelligence and machine learning algorithms will unleash the power of Digital Health. Wearable sensors will undoubtedly save more costs and save more lives, a thoroughly pleasant outlook.