Wearable Technology in Healthcare

The Future of Wearable Technology in Healthcare

How are you right now?

No, seriously—how are you? How are you physically? How are you mentally?

Are you relaxed? Alert? Anxious? Is your heart rate slow or fast? What is your body temperature? How active have you been today? How well did you sleep last night?

Most of us can give ballpark answers to these questions. But there is generally a lot of guesswork involved when we try to sum up how we are doing physically and psychologically.

But both healthcare and mobile technology have evolved considerably over recent years. This has led to the advent of a number of wearable healthcare devices that can be used to track health and well-being throughout the day in real time, providing valuable feedback to patients and healthcare providers alike.

In this wearable healthcare technology 101 article, we will introduce you to the basics of this technology along with its benefits and drawbacks. We will also share some examples so you can picture how you can use wearable technology for healthcare in your everyday life.

What is Wearable Healthcare Technology?

Wearable healthcare technology refers to a range of devices that you can use to monitor various aspects of your physical or mental state.

Often, they take the form of smartwatches. They are handy if you want to check on them at any moment, but unobtrusive enough you can comfortably forget you are wearing them.

Here are some common data that wearable technology for healthcare can collect and report:

  • Heart rate
  • Blood pressure
  • Blood oxygen saturation
  • Body temperature
  • Physical activity level
  • Posture
  • Walking patterns
  • Stress
  • Etc.

Some of these measurements are direct, like heart rate. Others are indirect, like stress. HIMSS explains, “A study by Setz and colleagues (2010) showed that even simple electrodermal activity (EDA) sensors have the capacity to identify stress level. An EDA sensor can measure skin conductance, which usually is correlated with the stress level of a person.”

What are the Benefits of Healthcare Wearables?

Here are some of the possible advantages of healthcare wearable tech:

  • Monitor patients with diseases or other health conditions and help manage those conditions.
  • Decrease the costs of medical care.
  • Protect an aging population. HIMSS says, “Recent studies have focused on developing wearable devices and associated algorithms to collect and analyze gait (manner of walking) data for fall prevention.”
  • Keep track of weight and help dieters to achieve their weight loss or weight maintenance goals.
  • Help prevent people from sitting too long in one position or with poor posture.
  • Monitor mental health and offer recommendations.
  • Help people to track their activity levels and get more fit.
  • Get feedback to help athletes to improve their performance.
  • Educate the public more about important healthcare considerations and what daily habits can help them to maintain their wellbeing.

That probably is not even an exhaustive list of all the possible benefits of healthcare technology you can wear.

Reading this page, you probably can think of specific ways that this type of technology might benefit you or someone you know.

Key Point: There are many possible uses and benefits of wearable healthcare technology. It may be helpful for correcting posture and walking, preventing falls and injuries, monitoring mental health, tracking activity levels, aiding with weight loss, managing diseases, and much more.

Does Wearable Technology for Healthcare Have Any Drawbacks?

The benefits of wearable healthcare technology clearly are numerous. But do these types of wearable sensors have any potential drawbacks?

There are a few possible issues to be aware of:

  • It is possible devices could be hacked. Rigorous encryption is important to protect user data.
  • Speaking of data, users need to make sure they understand who can access their data and for what purposes. As with any other technology that involves data collection, we must take care not to let companies use patient data in unethical ways. There is already too big a profit motive in the healthcare industry.
  • One imagines there may be situations where having real-time feedback on one’s physical or mental state could be unhelpful. Think how hard it can be, for example, to slow down your heart when you can feel it beating fast. Just that feeling seems to lead to a feedback loop. Now imagine how seeing data on your physical or mental state could induce or perpetuate such a loop. Some individuals are likely more susceptible to such effects than others.

Key Point: While wearable healthcare technology largely is beneficial, there are some ethical concerns to be aware of. Also, some users might find having too much information on their state at a given instant could make it hard to change that state.

What Are Some Examples of Wearable Healthcare Technology?

Now that you know the benefits and drawbacks of wearable technology for healthcare, you probably are looking for some examples. Let’s go over a few.

FitBit

Probably the most famous wearable healthcare technology is FitBit. As the name implies, the purpose of FitBit is to help users to improve their fitness. It keeps track of how many steps you walk, your heart rate, your sleep, and more.

Garmin

Another popular brand of wearables on the consumer market is Garmin. Indeed, this company makes products that are specifically tailored to a broad variety of applications, mostly in the fitness department. There are wearable products for running, swimming, diving, golf, and more.

Apple Watch

This smartwatch can help track your heart rate and features an ECG app. If your heart rate is above or below a certain threshold, the watch will notify you. It will do the same if you have an irregular rhythm. There is also a feature that will detect if you have taken a fall (good for older users).

Motiv

While most wearable health technology tends to take the smartwatch or fitness band form, there are some exceptions. One of those is Motiv, which is a ring you wear on your finger. It monitors many of the same things as some of the other products we have discussed here. It can track your heart rate, your activity level, and your sleep. Some people might find it less obtrusive than a fitness band.

Ava

If you are trying to track menstrual cycles, Ava is the way to go. This wearable was designed to help you figure out when you ovulate and when your next period is likely. You can use it to help you conceive if you are trying to have a baby. Alternately, if you do not want to have a baby, it may help you avoid having sex when you are at peak fertility (of course, you should use proper birth control methods—this is just an adjunct).

Monitoring menstrual cycles may also be useful if you have certain health conditions. If, for example, you have menstrual migraine, Ava might help you make predictions about your attacks.

Along with tracking menstrual cycles, Ava can help you monitor your heart rate, your sleep, and your stress.

Withings Move ECG

If you are looking specifically for a wearable that can serve as an ECG monitor, you might consider the Withings brand. Their Move ECG was honored at the 2019 Consumer Electronics Show as the best wearable. It can not only provide feedback to the wearer, but also forward it to that person’s healthcare provider.

Omron Healthcare HeartGuide

Patients who want to continuously monitor their blood pressure can turn to the Omron Healthcare HeartGuide wearable. In terms of its appearance, it is hard to tell apart from a regular smartwatch. Along with telling you what your blood pressure is at any moment, it can provide you with feedback on your activity levels.

It is possible to pair this monitor up with the HeartAdvisor app, which gives you a way to view and analyze the data.

TempTraq

If you are a parent, you know how hard it can be to figure out what is going on with your baby when they are sick. They cannot communicate with you in words, so you have to go entirely by behavioral clues, physical signs, and measurements like your child’s temperature.

Instead of having to manually check your baby’s temperature each time, you can let them wear the TempTraq monitoring sensor patch. Not only does this make it easy to look at your child’s temperature at any time, but it also stops you from having to disturb them as they try to get their much-needed rest.

Healthcare Technology You Can Wear Can Help You Monitor and Manage Your Health

Now you know what healthcare wearable technology is, what its advantages are, and some examples of this type of tech already in use.

If you are a healthcare provider, you can consider incorporating healthcare wearable technology into your practice in some way.

But even if you do not work in healthcare, you can take advantage of this technology to monitor and maintain your own physical and mental health.

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