Wearable Technology in Healthcare: Definition, Benefits, History, and Future Prospects

Advancements in technology have made it possible to effortlessly track our health via small devices we can keep on us at all times. As a result, we’re seeing more and more of these gadgets being used in the healthcare sector.

From fitness trackers to blood pressure monitors and biosensors, wearable devices are improving patient care, making medical procedures more efficient, and saving lives.

Here we’ll take a closer look at what wearable technology in healthcare is and some of the benefits it brings to that industry. We’ll also touch on the future of this evolving tech field.

What Is Wearable Technology in Healthcare?

You’re probably aware of what wearable technology is in general. You’ve at least seen someone wearing a smartwatch, for instance.

Most of these devices have tracking capabilities which can extend to monitor our heart rate, keep track of how many steps we’re taking, count calories, and estimate our sleep quality. However, they can also measure blood pressure, blood oxygen, breathing rate, and more, which is invaluable to the healthcare industry.

Types of Wearable Technology in Healthcare

In this section, we’ll discuss some examples of wearable technology in healthcare.

Fitness Trackers and Smartwatches

Fitness trackers and smartwatches weren’t created to be used by the healthcare sector per se, but they have proven useful in that area. They can track user activity or stress levels while syncing to a mobile app that stores and displays the data.

Studies have shown that the information collected by fitness trackers and smartwatches combined with machine learning have the potential to help accurately predict surgical outcomes.

Moreover, some smartwatch models have medical safety features, like the emergency button on the Apple Watch. The watch alerts first responders, caregivers, or family members that something is wrong.

Wearable Blood Pressure Monitors

When you go to the doctor, often, they will measure your blood pressure. However, for people with hypertension, monitoring blood pressure constantly is the key to keeping their health in check.

That’s where wearable blood pressure monitors come in. They allow patients to passively track their state and their physicians to get notified in case any abnormalities are detected.

Wearable ECG Monitors

This type of medical wearable device is specifically designed to produce electrocardiograms. Therefore, it allows doctors to monitor patient heart rates both in-person and remotely. They can detect heart arrhythmia and other issues, and send alerts.

Biosensors

“Biosensor” is short for “biological sensor;” these devices include:

  • Biosensors for cardiovascular disease: Since the risk of cardiovascular disease is often significantly increased by high cholesterol, some biosensors measure cholesterol concentration in the wearer’s blood.
  • Biosensors for diabetes: These devices measure blood glucose levels, and are widely considered the first biosensors. An example of such a device is the continuous glucose monitor (CGM), which can determine the blood sugar concentration in the interstitial fluid of the wearer’s body fat.
  • Biosensors for cancer: These biosensors are designed to detect cancer biomarkers. They can help establish an early diagnosis, and monitor the progression of the disease.

The Benefits of Wearable Technology in Healthcare

There are numerous advantages of wearable technology in healthcare. Let’s see what they are:

Improved Patient Care

Health monitoring wearables make 24/7 patient tracking possible, and can send alerts if something goes wrong. What’s more, doctors have much more relevant data to work with, which helps with identifying potential health problems early on, and tailoring treatment accordingly.

Safety

This technology can help enhance patient safety in several ways. For instance, some devices come with an automatic accident-detection feature. If the wearable detects a fall and the user doesn’t respond to alerts, the device automatically places a 911 call. However, while this feature saves lives, it can also trigger unnecessary emergency calls, although that’s a small price to pay.

Chronic Condition Management

Medical wearable technology can help patients with chronic conditions better manage their condition. For instance, patients with diabetes can monitor their blood sugar levels with the help of the aforementioned CGM systems.

Another example is wearable insulin pumps: They are equipped with a calculator that estimates how much of this hormone is needed and inject it via catheter.

Patient Engagement

Gadgets can help engage patients in their own care. For instance, a fitness tracker can motivate patients to stay active and healthy with various colour-coded goals and achievement tracking. Apps like Noom allow users to easily track their food and water intake and monitor exercise.

Reduced Hospital Visits

Given that the data collected by wearables can be sent to the doctor in real-time, they may be able to detect a health issue early on, and thus the patient can avoid hospitalization.

In addition, since their health can be monitored remotely, some patients that would usually be kept in the hospital for observation can be sent home early. Widespread use of healthcare wearables would free up hospital space, so those who truly need inpatient care would be able to receive it.

Improved Communication Between Patients and Healthcare Providers

Wellness wearables can improve communication between patients and healthcare providers. For example, patients can use a wearable fitness tracker to send data about their activity level and diet to their doctor, without worrying they’ll forget to mention something, or not know how to describe their state.

Reduced Costs

The use of wearable devices can help reduce overall healthcare costs. For example, by using a wearable heart rate monitor, patients with heart conditions can avoid expensive and unnecessary hospital visits.

Improved Access to Care

Wearable technology can improve access to care, especially for patients in remote areas. Instead of having to pay regular visits to a health institution, any patient can stay connected with their doctor remotely.

Increased Efficiency

Lastly, healthcare wearables can help increase the efficiency of healthcare providers. By using a wearable medical device, doctors can be notified of changes in a patient’s condition without having to constantly check on them, thus increasing the number of people they can offer care to.

The Limitations of Wearable Technology in Healthcare

While this tech field is very promising, and its implementation seems to spell a bright future, there are some drawbacks to its current form of use.

Data Security and Privacy Concerns

One of the main concerns with wearable technology is data security and privacy. Since this type of technology collects sensitive information, there is a risk that it could end up in the wrong hands.

Limited Battery Life

Another issue with wellness wearables is that these devices often have limited battery life. This can be a problem for patients who find themselves without a power source when their battery is drained.

High Costs

The price of medical wearable devices is continually decreasing. However, they can still be quite expensive, especially if they have the sensors required for medical-grade monitoring. This is why their use is not as widespread as it could be.

Accuracy Issues

One final concern with wearable technology is that the data it collects may not be accurate. For instance, a fitness tracker, especially a cheaper one, may mistake the wearer’s lack of movement while laying down as sleeping, and thus inaccurately measure their sleep.

The History of Wearable Technology in Healthcare

The first known invention of medical wearables as we know them today was the implantable pacemaker. It was created in 1958 by Wilson Greatbatch to monitor patients with arrhythmia.

The pacemaker’s predecessor was invented in 1952, but it was enormous, so it had wheels and needed to be pushed by the patient. Thus, the invention of the wearable version was a huge moment in the history of truly portable health devices.

The first CGM approved by the FDA was the Medtronic MiniMed’s Continuous Glucose Monitor System (CGMS) in 1999. Since then, CGMs have become more advanced in terms of accuracy and design, as well as less cumbersome.

Smartwatch history can be traced to 1995, when the Breitling Emergency Watch was launched. It was the predecessor of smartwatches used in healthcare, as it could send distress signals to rescue services. In 2003, two British pilots were saved thanks to this watch after their helicopter crashed in Antarctica.

The first Fitbit – the fitness tracker with the most commercial success today – came out in 2009. It counted user steps and rewarded them when they accomplished goals, just like today’s fitness trackers do. The Fitbit with sleep tracking capabilities was introduced a year later.

The Future of Wearable Technology in Healthcare

The future of wearable technology in healthcare is looking promising, and the number of connected wearable devices has almost tripled. As it continues to evolve, we expect to see more ways it will improve patient care.

We can expect another spike in using wearable technology for healthcare once the price of these gadgets becomes truly accessible, and enough professionals have the education to best leverage this kind of tech when providing care.

In addition, the sensors will become more sophisticated, and thus will be able to deliver more accurate results. We are also likely to see prolonged battery life for these devices.

Finally, the connection level will expand further, and doctors will be able to access the data from their patients’ wearables, thus, substantially speeding up checkups and monitoring, while reducing the need for in-person visits and overnight hospital stays.


FAQ

Does wearable technology improve health outcomes?

Yes, wearable tech has the potential to improve health outcomes. The use of wearable technology in healthcare helps healthcare practitioners monitor their patients more easily, notifying them of any adverse tracking results or emergencies.

What is the impact of wearable technology in the healthcare industry?

The impact of wearable technology in healthcare includes improved care efficiency, reduced hospital visits, and improved patient safety, among other things. These wearables offer a lot of information to doctors about their patients health-wise, as they can provide data gathered over extended periods.

What is the future of wearable technology in healthcare?

Today’s healthcare wearables carry a lot of potential. The more advanced they become, the more integrated into the healthcare sector we expect them to be. We will likely see these devices’ battery life and sensor accuracy improve, too.

What are examples of wearable technology in healthcare?

Examples of wearable tech in the healthcare sector include smartwatches, fitness trackers, wearable blood pressure monitors, and biosensors.

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