The Healthcare Hub

Healthcare and Wearable Devices

Thursday, July 26, 2018

The adoption of wearable devices has steadily increased over the past several years since the invention of the smartwatch. The annual shipment of wearable devices is projected to increase to 430 million units by 2022. Wearable devices have also evolved beyond smartwatches to include other technological devices such as glasses, headbands, earpieces and other wearables, however, smartwatches are expected to constitute the largest device in this category. 

Some would say that wearable devices have changed the landscape of several economic sectors including healthcare, fashion, entertainment, and security. The healthcare sector has seen a shift and there are no indications that this is going to abate anytime soon as healthcare applications are expected to drive the future growth of wearable technology. Facilitating this growth is the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) which recently piloted a precertification program known as FDA Pre-Cert — created to fast track high-quality, safe and effective digital health products. Discussed below are some of the ways that healthcare is driving the future of wearable devices.

Wearable devices have great potential in the medical management of patients. There has been success in recognizing disorders, thereby allowing for earlier medical intervention. With proper use they can support long-term monitoring of chronic medical conditions.

  • Atrial fibrillation: This is an abnormal rhythm typically diagnosed using a 12-lead electrocardiogram in a clinical setting. Last November, the FDA approved a smartwatch wristband and app that can monitor the heart rhythm and notify the wearer of any abnormalities that may be indicative of atrial fibrillation. 
  • Hypertension: Still undergoing clinical tests with an anticipated schedule for release this year is a smartwatch that can be used to check the wearer's blood pressure. This data can be synced with a phone app and shared with relevant healthcare providers.
  • Diabetes: A manufacturer of continuous glucose monitoring systems, has partnered with Apple, Samsung, and Fitbit to use their smartwatches to display blood sugar readings. The intention is that wearers can monitor their blood sugar levels more closely to enable better management of their diabetes.
  • Vital signs: For the athlete, an activity tracker that monitors the wearer's vital signs through the ear. This wearable can monitor core body temperature as well as the heart rate, speed, cadence and more to potentially improve physical performance.

There are several indications that clinical trials have benefited from the increased prevalence of wearable devices:

  • One of the challenges for researchers involved in clinical trials is finding qualified candidates who meet the trial specifications. The data generated from wearable devices have broadened the candidate pool and helped researchers find suitable candidates for clinical trials. 
  • Prior to the use of wearable devices in clinical trials, the data collected was typically isolated, requiring participants to document results or present at the hospital on a regular basis. With wearable devices, participants can be continuously monitored with data obtained around the clock.
  • Wearable devices tend to improve compliance with clinical trials because there is a decreased effort on the part of the participants in collecting the necessary data. For the same reason, the rates at which participants drop out of clinical trials also decrease. 
  • It’s been found that wearable devices provide data to researchers that is more reflective of daily life. This could potentially provide the healthcare provider with a more robust picture of their patient's medical well-being so that adequate treatment or preventative measures can be instituted.

Most of us are familiar with wearables as mobile measurement devices (indicating how many steps a day you have taken) and slick watches that we can communicate with, but in spite of privacy and security challenges, wearable devices have a bright future in healthcare and medical management. Innovation continues as clinicians can see the obvious upside to wearable devices for many circumstances.