From a wearable calculator to an old-school Walkman portable audio player, wearable technology has been in the lives of Americans for many decades. Nowadays, wearables can be found as smartwatches, sensor stamps, or trendy accessories. Even more so now, wearable technology is being used to shape the healthcare industry.
Designed to collect users’ personal health and exercise vitals, these innovative wearables are making a vast impact in the nation’s healthcare systems by empowering patient self-care and offering convenient health data collection and interpretation. Within the healthcare system, these gadgets are paving the way to easily generate data and insight that feeds patient information directly to healthcare professionals for personalized care and advice. Features and functionalities of these intelligent tools include information and data tracking, patient monitoring to identify chronic illness and help boost everyday health.
Wearable technology advancements and trends
These smart accessories have completely evolved over the past few decades, and so have the way we use them. The earliest form of wearable technology stems back to 1977 with the Hewlett Packard HP-01 calculator wristwatch. Not only was this watch a calculator, but it also showcased the time of day, an alarm, a timer, plus the date and calendar, a novel invention of its time.
Nearly 45 years later, we’re seeing advancing technologies such as smart lenses with zooming capabilities and a non-invasive soft patch Bluetooth sensor to monitor ill infants and children while they sleep. The role technology plays in human lives is constantly growing and evolving as our knowledge expands.
“Wearable technology provides us with the ability to monitor our fitness levels, track our location with GPS, and view text messages more quickly,” the Goodwill Community Foundation reported. “Best of all, most of the devices that allow us to do this are hands-free and portable, eliminating the need to take our devices out of our pockets.”
Integration of wearable technology in patient care
Prior to the convenience of wearables, it was significantly harder to track personal information. With the added capabilities of smart device connection, wearable technology automatically and easily transmits collected data to personal devices to review at later times. This process makes it easier for patients to track health trends, while streamlining a wellness conversation with healthcare professionals because all vital information is stored in an easily accessible location.
Over the past few years, many technology companies have shifted their focus away from fitness trackers to design holistic digital services that will “fit seamlessly into clinical practices, demonstrate a willingness to strengthen security around collected data, and provide solutions that fit patients’ needs and wants,” reported Health Tech Magazine.
Instead of sharing health updates once a year during an annual check-up, wearable technology automatically collects data to enhance transparency and accuracy of a patient’s overall wellbeing across a longer time period. As basic signs and symptoms are digitally monitored 24/7 with wearables, healthcare professionals are able to spend more time on patient treatment, recovery, and care.
“People can overestimate or underestimate on surveys how much and when they move, but wearable devices provide accurate data that cuts through the bias and guesswork,” assistant professor of medicine at John Hopkins University of Medicine and member of the research team, Jacek Urbanek, told Health Tech Magazine.
Pritesh Mistry, digital fellow at the think tank the King’s Fund told the BJM that wearables are a way of “providing resources to the healthcare system [while] reducing clinical risk.”
Wearable tech not only tracks and monitors vitals and symptoms, it also helps predict and prevent events that could lead to hospitalization. Additionally, this technology provides medical professionals access to disease prevention, early detection, and precautionary measures. All of this can be done remotely as healthcare professionals can view and track necessary information from afar.
Wearable technology during COVID-19
Wearable tech trends in 2020 were slower to hit the markets due to the pandemic. In 2018, wearable tech was up 33 percent compared to 2020 at 18 percent. However, these smaller waves boast several exceptions. For one thing, telehealth sprouted its running legs as more and more people opted for online health amid quarantine protocols. An additional focus on integrating quality patient care via telehealth and video conferencing was a larger focus—more than integrating new gadgets and trends. As COVID subsides, we can expect a return to new tech implementation to help solve some of the larger picture issues that were highlighted from the pandemic.
Simply put, wearables are helping patients through the coronavirus pandemic. The wave of the COVID-19 outbreak unmasked the great potential wearables have in early detection, diagnosis, and treatment. Med City News estimates 30 million wearable devices capable of tracking, monitoring, and fighting the progression of COVID-19 to ship to healthcare organizations and patients within the next year. Based on diseases like coronavirus and the increasing need for remote care, research experts expect this number to grow to 104 million within the next five years.
By collecting vitals of coronavirus patients via wearable technology, healthcare professionals limit exposure with infected individuals, obtain round-the-clock patient information, and can quickly spot signs that could lead to patient hospitalization. These key technological advancements enable a better bedside manner and clinical mobility.
“There’s a huge amount of promise in these new technologies,” Dr. John Brownstein, chief innovation officer for Boston Children’s Hospital and professor of epidemiology at Harvard Medical School, told ABC News.
Since more than 21 percent of Americans already wear smart devices, it makes sense to use this technology to identify a potential COVID-19 infection.
“We’re looking at this asymptomatic and contagious stage,” Dr. Ali Rezai, director of West Virginia’s University’s Rockefeller Neuroscience Institute and leader of WVU’s COVID-19 wearables study, told ABC News. “Our goal is to detect it early in this phase and help people manage better with work and public safety.”
As an alternative to frequent coronavirus testing, data gathered from wearable devices allow individuals to monitor their own health trends via smartphone app. Patients can then use that information to identify unusual patterns in their health, such as an increased heart rate.
“The more you know about your body and what your ‘baseline’ is, the more you’re able to tell if something is off,” Scott Burgett, director of Garmin health engineering, told Fortune.
Further, Jennifer Radin, an epidemiologist at Scripps Research told Health Tech Magazine that “being able to detect changes to these measurements early could allow us to improve surveillance, prioritize individuals for testing, and help keep workplaces and communities safe.”
Wearable tech to watch for
According to Tech Trend, these are the “powerful tendencies” to lookout for throughout 2021:
- Health-related innovation. This is high on programmers’ priority list throughout the year. Manufacturers are developing unique ways for individuals to manage their own health and wellbeing with watches that monitor blood sugar and body temperature and face masks that feature “virus-killing UV lighting,” and more.
- New possibilities with 5G. This high-speed cellular data transport offers “a much higher number of devices to function within a geographic place,” meaning your devices won’t compete for cellular bandwidth.
- Affordable and practical wearables. There is always an opportunity for devices to become smaller, more effective, and cheaper in price to help grow consumer popularity.
- Clothing and footwear. Collaborations between tech and fashion becomes more popular, as seen with the Neviano connected swimsuits that “discover the strength of ultraviolet light” that the user is exposed to and delivers warnings via smartphone app when levels are too high.
There are many different purposes of wearables in the healthcare sector. Remote patient monitoring, tracking, data collection, enhanced lifestyle, detection of chronic conditions, and more wearable technology functions act as an aid for medical professionals and individuals alike. SD Global named these as the top 10 healthcare wearables to keep on your radar:
- Ava. Focusing on women’s health, this night-only wearable tracks menstruation cycles, fertility, and pregnancy. For pregnant women, this technology helps monitor weight, sleep, and stress levels. The Ava device features “an average of 5.3 fertile days per cycle with an accuracy of 89 percent,” according to a clinical study conducted by the University Hospital of Zurich.
- AliveCor. A portable, FDA-approved EKG device that fits snugly in your pocket. This gadget takes medical-grade EKG recordings within 30 seconds to detect any inconsistencies and delivers results to your smartphone. Easy to use, individuals put their fingers on the sensors to retrieve health information within seconds.
- Tempraq. Caring for a sick child is never easy. This soft patch Bluetooth sensor is placed under a child’s arm to help caregivers keep an eye on their body temperature at different intervals without the use of a thermometer. Tested to meet ASTM E1112-00 standard, this wearable accurately reads temperatures between 87 and 109.3 degrees Fahrenheit.
- BioScarf. This wearable is a fashionable alternative to pollution masks. Equipped with a built-in N95 filter, this smart scarf helps strain more than 99.75 percent of airborne pollutants. Designed to keep away pet dander, pollen, smoke, pm2.5, and other contaminants, this reusable technology is both trendy and fashionable.
- Blinq. This Montreal-based startup manufactures several styles of rings that have LED light notifications, fitness tracking, and an SOS distress feature. An ideal alternative to bulky jewelry and accessories, Blinq is water-resistant and works with more than 150 Andriod/iOS apps, plus features a battery life of up to 48 hours. S
- SmartSleep. Philips SmartSleep is a soft headband designed with sensors that identify individual sleep needs. This comfortable wearable is also capable of producing audio tones that may improve the depth and duration of the users’ REM sleep. Easily connect with the app to log sleep metrics and seek guidance for a good night’s rest.
- Bio Patch. The latest, non-invasive wearable at helps medical professionals monitor and measure patient heart rate, ECG, heart rate variability, respiration rate, and activity. One model attaches directly to the chest, while others use a multi-sensing algorithm to calculate vital signs.
- Smart glasses. There’s a lot of roadwork to this initiative, but a Netherlands-based firm is making significant strides. Minuut Innovation has a plan to launch an all-in-one mobile health communication platform to make the most out of augmented reality eyewear. Smart glasses can help providers send secure videos and communicate with other specialists remotely.
- Smart hearing aids. Contrary to the traditional idea of hearing aids, these smart aids are not just for people with hearing difficulties. Starkey Hearing Technologies launched Livio Al, a product that can selectively filter noise and focus on specific sounds. This wearable also helps individuals who suffer with ringing in the ears and make it possible to track health metrics like physical activity and heart rate.
- Wireless patient monitoring. As a top priority for healthcare organizations, wireless patient monitoring helps reduce downtime and costs. Wearables can help take pressure off medical professionals and assist in caregiver ease.
It’s important to note that while wearable technology is advancing healthcare practices, is not a replacement for telehealth or in-person healthcare visits, but rather a complementary approach to overall patient care.
Wearable technology has evolved from the old school days of wristwatches into an ever-growing technological phenomenon inspiring both healthcare professionals and patients to make informed health decisions. The steady rise of coronavirus in the U.S. has only increased the need for advancing wearable technology and improving health management in the lives of Americans. As individuals, we can look forward to an innovative future with more access to digital healthcare. As healthcare professionals, we can get excited about the coming tech advancements that will improve the lives of our patients while making healthcare jobs more efficient and effective.