Wearable devices are becoming more impactful in the healthcare industry today. People want to obtain higher access to professional devices outside healthcare institutions and have the possibility to monitor their health on their own. That’s why healthcare technology started extending beyond the borders of hospitals, rehabilitation facilities, clinics, and others in the form of wearables. Now, they are more accessible in the mass market and people can afford to have personalized healthcare devices in their homes.
With the Coronavirus outbreak and the rise of telehealth and telemedicine from 19.5% to 61.05% between 2020 and 2021 in the USA alone, the demand for wearable devices has also grown. According to an IDC survey, despite the supply chain constraints, wearables shipments increased by 9.9% in Q3 of 2021, reaching 138.4 million units.
In this article, we’ll look into how wearable health tech is utilized in healthcare and what the future of wearable technology is like in healthcare.
Wearable Gadgets for Smart Healthcare
There is a wide variety of wearable healthcare gadgets in the market and many more are being developed. Let’s have a look at some of the devices available today.
- Fitness trackers
Fitness trackers are the most widespread type of smart healthcare wearable gadgets used en masse. Sportspeople, healthy lifestyle followers, and health influencers use fitness trackers to monitor their daily physical activity and gain insights into their health and wellness. The most common parameters measured with fitness trackers are: number of steps, sleep stages, heart rate, pulse, number of burnt calories.
Smartwatches are updated fitness trackers with wider functionality. While fitness trackers come in the form of a band and are used just for monitoring activity, smartwatches look like electronic watches with wider screens connected to smartphones. Apart from activity tracking, smartwatches can also deliver notifications, emails, and messages from social media.
- Electrocardiogram monitors
Electrocardiogram monitors (ECG/EKG) are devices that measure how well a patient’s heart is working and they have recently appeared in the wearable gadget market.
For now, wearable ECG gadgets use only a single-lead probe which is much fewer than twelve leads in ECGs utilized in hospitals. Though the technology is less effective than hospital appliances, it still can help to detect some heart problems such as arrhythmias, atrial fibrillation, and others. Many smartphone and gadget manufacturing companies have already updated their smartwatches with ECG monitors, including Apple Watch, Samsung Galaxy, Fitbit Sense, Amazfit, and others.
- Blood pressure monitors
Blood pressure monitors are another recently developed wearable smart devices that are quickly becoming popular. This type of monitor doesn’t require an inflatable cuff applied to the user’s wrist or upper arm, instead, they use some other biological data e.g. pulse transmit time or optical sensors to estimate blood pressure. The technology is still developing and improving. Samsung, BioBeat, and Heartisans are actively experimenting with wearable blood pressure monitors.
Wearable biosensors are currently under development portable electronic devices. They can be integrated with or into the human body, e.g. tattoos, gloves, clothing, or implants synced with mobile phones or other gadgets. The market doesn’t offer biosensors for mass use yet, but they have the potential to revolutionize the healthcare and telemedicine realms.
Wearable Technology in Healthcare: Examples and Use Cases
Wearable technology helps to enhance healthcare, facilitating the industry for patients and doctors. Doctors can make precise diagnoses, gaining more and real-time information about their patients, whereas patients don’t have to necessarily visit hospitals to get diagnosed.
Here is how wearable technology can be used in healthcare today:
- tracking health status – with health monitoring devices doctors can track and measure their patients’ vitals in real-time such as heart rate, blood pressure, body temperature, etc.; the gadgets can transmit the necessary patients’ data to the doctors for further examination;
- therapeutic treatment – patients with chronic diseases can get timely treatment once their metrics exceed the level, e.g. getting automated insulin pumps or medications; moreover, with these devices, doctors can better adjust the patients’ therapy through monitoring their patients’ conditions;
- activity tracking – apart from doctors monitoring their patients’ state, wearable gadget users can track their health status on their own; in case of any irregularities, they can seek consultation from a qualified doctor to take preventative action to any disease development.
Challenges Facing Wearable Technology
Wearable health tech is still developing and there is still much that can be done for providing greater diagnostics and, therefore, more innovation in the healthcare industry. The main challenges that the companies involved in the development of wearable technology encounter today include:
- data privacy and data leakage concerns – for this companies have to constantly improve their data protection methods as well as ensure legitimate use and storage of the sensitive personal data;
- challenges in data processing – wearable devices generate huge volumes of data that should be correctly examined and processed; therefore, companies creating such devices have to use advanced analytics tools and search for healthcare software development specialists that have expertise in Big Data, Artificial Intelligence, and Internet of Things implementation;
- ability to quickly recruit IT talents – core technical competency is one of the key factors that determine if a company or a startup is able to compete in the market; to quickly find narrowly specialized software developers, many businesses turn to software outsourcing companies which can quickly provide the needed specialists for their projects.
The Future of Using Wearable Technology in Healthcare
Using wearable devices for everyday needs is becoming an overall trend around the world.
According to Statista, the number of wearables has doubled from 325 mln to 722 mln in a matter of three years between 2016 to 2019 and it’s expected to reach the value of more than 1 bln by 2022.
Hearables are the most popular category among wearable devices, with shipment raised by 26.5% in 3Q in 2021. Meanwhile, the second most used category was wrist-worn gadgets such as health and fitness trackers, capturing 43.7% of the market. Statista states that the number of health and fitness trackers sold in 2016 reached 44.5 million and the figure is expected to reach 105 mln in 2022. Since 2010, Fitbit company has managed to sell 76 mln devices worldwide with its revenue growing from $5 mln in 2010 to $2.17 bln in 2016. All this data signifies that people are interested in buying healthcare gadgets and the industry will continue to develop and increase investment.
Using wearable healthcare gadgets is a popular tendency today. People have been utilizing fitness trackers and smartwatches for quite some time now and their demand is only growing. Bearing this in mind, the healthcare industry isn’t limited only to these types of gadgets, and companies are constantly experimenting and working on new solutions. For example, ECG and blood pressure monitors, and biosensors. On the other hand, recently developed gadgets require many improvements and tech expertise to reach the level of medical appliances.
It’s expected that the healthcare wearable gadgets market will continue to grow and develop due to increased interest from end-users. And in the near future, we’ll see new and enhanced wearables offered by healthcare tech companies.