Redefining Healthcare with Wearable Technology: A Look Ahead

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The current state and use cases of wearable technology include smartwatches, biosensors, wearable ECG monitors, and wearable blood pressure monitors. As for the future of wearable technology, revolutionary changes are expected. Some examples are wearable devices with lower visibility, AI i

The impact of wearable technology in the healthcare sector is growing at a fast pace. These devices have carved out a sizeable niche for themselves in the healthcare industry. They have rapidly gained popularity in recent years, with devices such as smartwatches, fitness trackers, and health monitoring sensors becoming increasingly common. According to a study published by the National Library of Medicine, more than 30% of Americans currently use wearable health-tracking devices. One of the key causes is that modern individuals want to have better access to professional electronic devices to keep track of their health vitals without having to visit a clinic every time.

The COVID-19 pandemic has sparked a significant rise in the demand for wearable technology to meet evolving healthcare needs. A post by Straitsresearch.com states that by 2029, the wearables market will generate a staggering $1,03,246.29 million in revenue.

In healthcare, wearable technology has the potential to revolutionize the way we approach health management and disease prevention. With real-time monitoring, personalized feedback, and remote patient monitoring, wearable technology has significant potential to improve patient outcomes and reduce healthcare costs. Would you like to know how wearables will redefine healthcare in future years?  In this article, we will explore the future of wearable technology in healthcare and how it is likely to impact patients, healthcare providers, and the industry as a whole.

What is Wearable Technology?

The term "wearable healthcare devices" refers to body-worn health monitoring devices that record and track the user's health vitals. Wearables are already kicking off to change the wellness conversation away from being solely about nutrition and exercise to the direction of whole-body health. These devices gather various health information via biosensors, including BP, heart rate, sleep patterns, and fitness activities.
 
The first wearable computer was created in 1960 by two MIT professors, Claude Shannon and Edward Thorp. Fast forward, advanced Wearable computers are common today. They are used by us to track our health and exercise. The first fitness tracking device was launched by Fitbit wearable technology company; it was released in 2009. Since then, the market for wearables has grown exponentially, providing professional athletes, medical experts, and ordinary citizens with access to extensive health data that they can view on their smartphones with just the touch of a finger.

Wearable technology, when integrated with IoT, can be used for collecting and analyzing large amounts of healthcare data. One can use this data to improve patient care and clinical decision-making. The Internet of Things in healthcare implies combining associated devices and systems like wearables, sensors, communication protocols (Bluetooth, WiFi, Cellular networks, etc.), and IoT platforms. It aims to enhance health services, medical treatment, and healthcare operations. Some use cases of IoT in healthcare include wearable devices or portable gadgets such as smartwatches, body patches, ear wearables, headbands, and smart eyewear.

The Importance of Wearable Technology in the Medical Sector

Like every other technology, wearable technology has had a big impact on the healthcare industry. Earlier, their main purpose was to measure heart rate, and the most popular wearable devices were activity trackers. But modern medical technology is much more advanced, thanks to wearable technology in health services.

Modern wearables have contributed to the efficiency of telehealth solutions, reducing the communication gap between patients and doctors. For instance, a variety of wearable technologies can aid medical professionals in the diagnosis and treatment of ailments like diabetes, heart disease, and sleep disorders.
Since wearable technology allows doctors access to real-time data of a patient's blood pressure, heart rate, oxygen saturation level, and blood sugar levels, they can stay informed about the patient's condition without much ado and suggest an accurate and even personalized course of treatment as required by the patient.

As wearable technology can gather data over an extended period, healthcare professionals can spot patterns and trends that might not be obvious during a single doctor's visit. This makes room for more proactive therapies and aids in the early detection of health problems. Thanks to wearables, users receive reminders, warnings, and notifications like when it's time to take medication or when their heart rate is abnormally high or low.

Wearable technology also enables remote patient monitoring, allowing healthcare providers to monitor patients from a distance. This can be especially useful for patients who live in remote areas or have mobility issues.

Wearable technology has become a crucial component of the healthcare sector since it has several advantages for patients as well as healthcare professionals. Overall, wearable technology has significant potential to transform healthcare by enabling real-time monitoring and data collection, improving disease management, enabling remote patient monitoring, enhancing patient engagement, and reducing healthcare costs.

Current State & Use Case of Wearable Technology

By allowing patients to track their health and lifestyle choices, wearable technology has already had a big positive impact on the healthcare industry. The most popular wearable gadgets utilized in healthcare nowadays are smartwatches and fitness trackers. These gadgets have sensors that keep track of a number of factors, such as heart rate, physical activity, and sleep habits.

Wearable devices have come a long way. The same goes for fitness trackers and smart glasses. Stretchability, hyper-thinness, biocompatibility, biodegradability, and self-care are all appealing characteristics of revolutionary wearable medical device designs. Let’s take a look at some of the current use cases of wearable technology.

1. Smart Watches

Smartwatches were formerly just used to track time and steps. With time they have developed into efficient medical tools and people use them to track their physical activity and keep an eye on their heart rates. Some smartwatches are also equipped with electrocardiogram (ECG) sensors, which can detect abnormal heart rhythms and other cardiac issues. Modern smartwatches can even transmit mobile phone notifications and screen calls.

Its advantages are:

  • Promotes an active and healthy lifestyle
  • Provides a customized exercise program.
  • Monitors exercise progress and recommends suitable workout instructions
  • Enables you to set medication reminders
  • Monitors calorie intake and diet

 2. Wearable ECG Monitors

The patient-doctor connection has been changed by wearable ECG monitors. The capacity to measure electrocardiograms or ECGs, is what distinguishes these wearables from some smartwatches. Wearable ECG monitors are portable devices that patients can continuously wear on their bodies. These devices record the electrical activity of the heart and can detect heart-related conditions like abnormal heart rhythms.

Some ECG monitors are equipped with screens that display your heart's rhythm. Most other devices allow you to take ECG readings, and then, save, view, and exchange your electrocardiogram outcomes with other mobile devices using an app.

This is how a wearable ECG monitor functions and generates heart rate information. It uses flashing LEDs that pierce the skin and measures the blood flow using sensors. Both smartphones and other mobile devices can be synced with these portable monitors. These devices can also spot early stages of disorders like arrhythmia, premature atrial contractions, and others.

 3. Wearable Blood Pressure Monitors

You can quickly and conveniently measure your blood pressure levels with a wearable blood pressure monitor. Omron Healthcare made a breakthrough in 2019 with the introduction of HeartGuide, which became the pioneering wearable blood pressure monitor in the market.  These can measure daily activity levels, blood pressure, and step counts, making them comparable to smartwatches in that regard.

According to the WHO, high blood pressure, often known as hypertension, affects one in four men and one in five women worldwide, increasing their risk of having a heart attack or stroke. Medical professionals, however, don't always have the time to track blood pressure across several readings. This gadget is one of the most effective ways to reduce this risk. It allows you to check your blood pressure easily, at regular intervals, and without any hassles, regardless of your location.

4. Biosensors

Biosensors are emerging wearable medical technologies that differ significantly from wrist trackers and smartwatches. Wearable biosensors are small electronic portable devices that monitor and generate reports on numerous biological and physiological signs to the user. They may measure many vital indicators in real-time, such as blood pressure, blood glucose levels, heart rate, temperature, respiration rate, and activity levels.

Biosensors measure the amount of biochemicals using elements such as antibodies or enzymes. Wearable biosensors are biosensors that are integrated into or with the human body, in the form of patches, gloves, or tattoos. These wearable biosensors are still under development, but top digital health communities believe they have the potential to revolutionize remote healthcare.

Research conducted by Augusta University Medical Center indicated that the usage of this wearable device resulted in a remarkable 89% decrease in patients' likelihood of experiencing preventable respiratory or cardiac arrest. This highlights the ability of wearable biosensors to improve patient outcomes while potentially reducing staff workload.

The Future Goals/ Changes in Wearable Technology in Healthcare

The future of wearable technology in health services is expected to be even more transformative than what we see today. The future expectations from wearable devices are wide-ranging and hold tremendous potential for various industries and aspects of everyday life. As technology continues to advance, we can anticipate several exciting developments and transformations in the realm of wearable devices. Here are some of the changes that are expected in the coming years:

1. Low Battery or Energy Harvesting

 Many of today's wearables have a relatively limited battery life. Most of these devices rely on a significant amount of processing power and internet access which results in more consumption of battery. Wearing a watch or wearable device that requires regular removal for charging is inconvenient. As a result, some developers are exploring other sources for battery recharging. One of the most popular ways is harvesting energy, which transforms heat generated by the body, solar energy, and even motion into power.

It would be revolutionary if this became standard for wearables. Users would no longer have to worry about the battery dropping at the wrong times or the trouble of needing to recharge it on a regular basis. Wearables could become even more common in the future if these drawbacks are successfully addressed.

2. Medical Wearables

Currently, Wearable technologies have proved their potential in the healthcare industry by being able to track crucial health vitals and biometrics in real-time. The future of medical wearables is an exciting one, with new technologies constantly emerging. Wearable app development services are researching to find ways that will improve the biometric tracking capability of wearables.

Several firms are taking remote monitoring to the next level by creating diagnostic wearables that monitor and help with treatment regimens as well. For diabetics, for example, an artificial pancreas (pictured below) is now being developed that can monitor blood sugar levels and automatically provide insulin. This technology will help in managing diabetes more effectively and minimize the risk of complications.

Taking this even further, the medical sector is investigating the development of wearables that can be inserted beneath the skin to test oxygen levels in the body, track prescribed medications, and monitor other vital signs. Such wearables would be highly beneficial to patients suffering from chronic conditions. This will allow users to track all forms of medical activity that existing wearables are not capable of tracking. This could involve blood tests, pharmacological effects, and a variety of other vital signs. It may be some time before we see this type of technology on the market, but it has the potential to alter many people's lives.

3. Authentication & Identification

With rising concerns over the security and privacy of data, it is a must to add more robust authentication and identification mechanisms to wearable devices. At the same time, you have to make sure the advanced authentication process is not lengthy and time-consuming. Current smartwatches already have some authentication capabilities and wearable companies are striving to take this to the next level.

In the future, wearable technology will improve on aspects like security, access control, and personal identity verification. With time authentication will get easier and more secure. Manufacturers are taking efforts to make wearable gadgets improve authentication and identification processes and provide more convenience, security, and efficiency. Biometric authentication, secure access management, and personalized experiences are just a few of the expected future advancements in this arena. Some inventors are even considering smart tattoos that, when scanned, provide relevant identity information.

4. Lesser Visibility

People don't want to wear wearable devices all the time or in specific situations, no matter how frequently they use them. They may prefer a more subtle approach, in which the technology blends into their daily life without attracting undue attention to itself. The less obvious these devices are, the more comfortable they are. Even as they become more popular, wearables are likely to become less apparent. They may be concealed from public view in the form of a patchwork strap. Devices may wind up looking more like jewelry or garments than like a fitness band or clip-on tracker. 

The healthcare wearables sector is focussing on this aspect. Some firms have already begun to do so. For example, you get smartwatches that have a classic watch face rather than a screen. In the event of an emergency, safety wearables in the shape of traditional rings or necklaces can discretely warn family and friends of your whereabouts.

It's crucial to note that the visibility of wearable devices might vary depending on personal preferences, cultural standards, and unique use cases. While some people favor subtle wearables, others may prefer more obvious devices as a fashion statement or to convey their unique style. To accommodate a wide range of user preferences, the future of wearable technology will continue to focus on establishing a balance between functionality, comfort, and aesthetics.

5. Integration of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML):

With the rise of wearable technology applications, artificial intelligence gadgets are becoming genuine assistants, hence enriching the consumer experience. Wearable gadgets will increasingly rely on AI and machine learning algorithms to interpret the massive volumes of data that they collect. This will allow for more precise and tailored insights, as well as predictive capabilities. Wearables will be able to recognize patterns, detect early warning signals of health problems, and provide proactive recommendations for better health management.

Through real-time monitoring, machine learning in healthcare can assist users in understanding all seizure patterns. Patients suffering from epilepsy can wear these AI-powered wearable gadgets. The wearable sends them alerts if a pattern is spotted, giving them enough time to move away from the road or reach a safe location. ML-enabled devices can monitor the physiological signs of stress and feelings of anxiety in children having autism spectrum disorder and can yield valuable data related to it.

Overall, leveraging artificial intelligence in wearable devices creates new opportunities for personalized health monitoring, predictive analytics, real-time coaching, and improved user experiences. Wearable AI has the potential to transform healthcare, exercise, and daily life by giving tailored insights, timely recommendations, and proactive interventions.

Closing Thoughts

The future of wearable technology in healthcare comes with a promise of immense possibilities and potential. As technology continues to advance, wearable devices are poised to revolutionize the way we monitor, manage, and improve our health. The demanding expectations of new-age consumers due to an increasing emphasis on health and fitness and emerging technological trends are triggering the wearable industry to adapt faster and be more competitive.

Wearables with advanced capabilities can flourish in the healthcare market provided certain conditions are met, as healthcare is a highly regulated industry that is hesitant to accept new technologies. Additionally, challenges with design trade-offs, higher-quality sensors, shape, power, algorithms, and data security are likely to arise. To successfully resolve these issues and create a robust and flawless end product, manufacturers must involve skilled wearable app developers with domain-specific experience.

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