NeuronicWorks has worked on several wearable devices, medical devices and wearable medical devices over the last decade. Supported by a highly skilled team and years of expertise, we can help you realize your vision of a smart wearable medical device. Reach out to us today to know how we can help.
Wearable Technologies and the Future of Healthcare
Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, we have been dealing with unprecedented global challenges. The prolonged effect of the global pandemic has revealed some of these challenges and deficiencies in the healthcare system and government policies. For e.g., it has highlighted the importance and complexity of dealing with infectious diseases.
While it may seem like infectious diseases diagnosis is one of the biggest challenges in the healthcare system, statistics of mortality show that in reality, chronic diseases, like cardiovascular diseases and diabetes have caused more deaths than the current viral pandemic. According to the WHO, the world’s biggest killer by far is ischemic heart disease, responsible for 16% of the world’s total deaths, followed by stroke and then chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
Moreover, the cost of healthcare is rising across the world. In the US, healthcare costs accounted for about 18% of the GDP in 2020. To bring this into perspective, education accounted for only 6% of the same GDP. We see the same trend in Canada, where healthcare costs accounted for around 11.5% of GDP in 2019.
With people across the world adopting a healthier lifestyle and with better access to technology, life expectancy is increasing almost linearly in most developed countries. As a result, demand on the healthcare system is also increasing proportionally. Today, the average healthy life years is rising with an increase of 5 years for every 20 years. To meet the rising demand and reduce the stress on the healthcare system around the world, we need to innovate on many fronts, using advanced technologies not only to maintain increased life expectancy but also increase health expectancy.
Figure 1: Life Expectancy is Rising
Despite these challenges, the future of human health and longevity looks promising. It is an exciting time for the medical devices and wearable industry as the future of healthcare looks very optimistic. Today, we have access to our genetic data and biometrics that help us make better decisions for our health and well-being; we also have access to affordable wearable devices that help track bio data. Digital connected health has now converged health technology, digital media, and applications into integrated systems to streamline the access to data and information thereby improving outcomes.
Future of Healthcare innovation
The future of healthcare focuses on providing access to primary care and diagnostics at affordable prices. This is today perhaps the biggest demand on healthcare providers and technology product companies.
The first step into this future is focusing on zero effort, continuous monitoring and 24/7 monitoring which aims to move away from a centralized method of providing care to decentralized, home-based care systems.
The future of healthcare is going to be data driven.
We will witness the rise of the Internet of Bodies (IoB) with personalized information that will offer a more preventative approach to healthcare rather than a reactive approach.
As with other technologies, we have seen an exponential growth in healthcare technologies. Today, we have access to more sensors than we had 10 to 20 years ago, and these sensors help collect biodata across the human body. The data collected from these sensors are processed and displayed on a wrist wearable like a smart watch and/or saved to the cloud for future reference. With an increased global demand for digital health, and with the cost of genome sequencing and biomarker sequencing dropping, these technologies can now be democratized and made available to consumers at an affordable cost.
Wearable Technologies can play a key role in the future of healthcare and unlock the transition from a centralized care into a decentralized model of monitoring patients where multiple sensors are attached or even embedded across the human body providing accurate real-time, clinical data at a fraction of cost.
We already see this happening with two types of diseases:
- Heart diseases: We can see a trend of monitoring moving away from the centralized hospital to on-body sensing. Companies like Apple are coming up with additional sensing platforms to use smart watches to track ECG accurately.
- Glucose Monitoring: While earlier test strips were used to monitor glucose, we are now seeing a trend towards continuous glucose monitoring that plays an important role in managing hypo and hyperglycemia. There are companies who are working towards bringing this monitoring into smart watches.
Wearables have played a key role in proliferating the Internet of Bodies technology. Rather than just one single device, measuring one parameter, the recent innovations in wearables make it possible to measure multiple parameters across the body and track biomechanics, biochemistry, brain activities and other parameters in/off the human body. This constitutes the first phase of democratization which is digitizing human activity and human health.
One of the greatest predictors of the wearable revolution is the rising innovation in smart textiles. Smart textiles provide a platform for multiple sensors to form a mesh network of sensors across the human body, constantly receiving information. On a macroscopic level, textile has a connected network of fibers that are knitted or woven together. Each fiber can be functionalized with different types of materials using different techniques to bring different functions into smart textiles from biosensing capabilities to energy conversion and storage capabilities.
Future of Wearable Devices for Medical Applications
Wearable devices are currently transitioning from largely being just a consumer product to a medical grade device. We see more single use devices being replaced with embedded sensors across the body with the goal of tracking electrophysiology, biochemistry, and biomechanics with a focus on early disease diagnostics and real-time monitoring.
Figure 2: The Future of Wearable Devices
For example, companies like Apple are collaborating with Stanford Medicine researchers to determine whether the Apple Watch’s heart-rate sensor can identify irregular heart rhythms associated with a condition known as atrial fibrillation. Dexcom and Fitbit collaboration is on the same track to bring high quality clinical health metrics and glucose monitoring data into wearables helping millions of people better manage their diabetes. UC San Francisco and UC San Diego researchers are using the Oura ring, a wearable device for tracking sleep, to find out how effectively they can detect asymptomatic COVID-19 using weeks of temperature and heart rate data.
The way forward for wearable medical devices however is not smooth sailing. There are technological barriers to overcome, stringent regulations to meet, and then there is the issue of data privacy. But the future is still optimistic. The scope for innovation is high and challenging and it is an exciting time to be a part of this advancing industry.