From Fitbit to Google Smart Contact Lenses, wearable technology is revolutionising our everyday lives. What’s more interesting is how the medical field has embraced this technology and is creating some really innovative products that bring huge value to the healthcare industry. This article will go through some existing successful wearable technology examples, as well as some products that have the potential to really change the game.
Wearable Technology and Big Data Healthcare
Companies such as Nike, Fitbit, Jawbone and Apple have recently produced and brought to market gadgets that can record our heart rate, calories and steps. Activity trackers have taken off because they’ve perfected a clear use, allowing customers to track their exercise data, which they can take advantage of to enhance and improve their workout. Big data plays an important role when it comes to wearable technology. It allows individuals to monitor their fitness progress which is beneficial from a physical and emotional point of view, and is why these products are so attractive to the health-focused consumer.
The popularity of these devices keeps growing day by day. After Christmas, Fitbit’s fitness-tracking app quickly shot to the top of the free app list in iTunes. Fitbit’s activity tracker was already the most-downloaded health and fitness application for iOS, but as Christmas approached, it leapfrogged 20 spots to the top, suggesting this wearable technology was a popular gift during the festive season.
Some innovators are looking beyond trackable bracelets and bringing ambitious technology to market. The company Athos plans to launch fitness clothes that measure muscle activity, heart rate and respiration in real-time. Its marketing material encourages consumers to “upgrade” and become “the ideal version” of themselves. In doing so, Athos clearly reveals its transhumanist stance: the idea that technology will take our species to the next evolutionary stage.
As wearable technology usage and accessibility keeps growing, it’s important to look further and think how this technology and big data could likely be used on a greater scale to help those who truly need it the most through monitoring, organising, collecting valuable information, and ultimately saving lives.
Healthcare From Hospital to Home
Few NHS organisations have started actually using wearable technology for medicine but uptake is definitely on the rise. For example, one organisation has started to integrate personal data from epilepsy patients’ smartphones and wearables with its patient records system, while another organisation has started using cameras with GPS, motion and light sensors to help patients combat memory loss.
The potential benefits offered by wearable technology within healthcare are vast. This technology could make it much easier to get reliable data to monitor conditions like diabetes or asthma, ensure patients remember to take their medication and reduce the need for hospital or GP visits. Patients could start to view healthcare as something they control and manage proactively, rather than something ‘done to them’ by professionals. For example, the Apple Watch has the ability to store about 60 different types of data, including blood pressure and glucose levels, which allows people to manage and support their own wellbeing.
Taking it a step further, some businesses have created technology that could be greatly applied in hospitals. For example, Cerora has a wearable headband and software platform that focuses on brain injury detection and Oxitone offers a wristband that monitors blood oxygen wirelessly. MC-10 is leading the way with smart patches that enable remote monitoring and home diagnosis. VitalConnect has developed a low-profile plastic patch that can monitor vital signs. These technologies are extremely new and it might take a while before the highly regulated healthcare industry starts to take advantage. However, the potential is there.
We’re already seeing sensors that improve quality of life, enable home diagnostics, make virtual health and remote monitoring possible, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. For example, Google has teamed up with Novartis on a smart contact lens to monitor the wearer’s blood sugar levels.
As we see wearable technology applied within individual lives and advanced hospital tools, some businesses take initiative to revolutionise healthcare within underprivileged communities. UNICEF has partnered with design firms ARM and Frog to launch the Wearables for Good challenge. It’s a contest to find a wearable device offering a solution “to pressing maternal, newborn or child health problems”.
One of the winners of this challenge, Khushi Baby, uses a mobile app for community health workers that interfaces with a digital necklace worn by patients via Near Field Communication (NFC). The chip included in the necklace collects data that could be read immediately by health workers to solve problems on the spot. The patient data is later synced to the cloud and displayed on an analytics dashboard, where insights can be acted upon by health officials.
We are now looking at a future of data-rich healthcare technologies that may forever change the medical industry. It puts the patient at the centre as it acts as a digital coach, allows constant monitoring, improved access and experience. The ability to provide a multipoint data tracking solution is unique to wearable technology and this industry will continue to grow over the next few years.
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