The evolution of health industry wearables

31 October 2014

Reading time 6 minutes

There’s no denying that wearable devices are one of the biggest topics in tech today, and were a major highlight of the Apple’s recent product launch with the much-anticipated release of Apple’s Smart Watch. At Rokk Media we are excited to see how these technologies evolve, and the recent Raconteur wearable tech report has highlighted some of the industries in which wearable technology is set to make an impact. In this article we’ll be looking at some of the ways wearables are being used in medical and clinical situations worldwide.

Wearables in Healthcare

The realisation that wearable technology can be employed for monitoring and improving healthcare seems almost too obvious- interaction or close contact with the body being perhaps the most important aspect of a ‘wearable’. Certainly the statistics back this idea up, with over 42% of people citing a desire to measure and improve health, and 30% citing a desire to stay motivated about their health being key reasons for buying wearables (Source: Samsung mHealth, March 2014).

Whether using wearables as health sensors for elderly or vulnerable people, as health sensors for people with chronic conditions like diabetes, or as instructive or analysis aids for use in operating theatres or on hospital wards, the case for wearables in healthcare is emphatically clear.

Healthcare Wearables? Won’t that be expensive?

The positive financial implications of such integration are incitement enough, with McKinsey claiming an astronomical $2trn could be saved worldwide a year by 2025, with a 10-20% cut in the cost of treating chronic diseases if we started using mobile sensors more widely. Encouragingly, increasing numbers of healthcare authorities have begun to do so, and an estimated 5m patients worldwide are forecasted to be using wearable technology and remote monitoring devices by 2017 (Source: HIS)

Wearable Technology in Healthcare Today:

Vascular Imaging

Medical professionals at Stanford University Medical Center, are pioneering the use of wearable technology in medical treatment and education. One key development has been their use of the Eyes-On Glasses from Evena Medical. These glasses give practitioners real-time and, importantly, hands-free vascular imaging, essentially providing a visual network of the patient’s veins to help guide where to insert a needle. The system was created to speed up workflow and reduce patient fear and irritation by making the selection of appropriate veins easier and more accurate.

Bionic Pancreas

This may sound like something out of a science fiction novel, but in a recent study published in the New England Journal of Medicine the Doctors were able to present some very promising results from a trial involving Type 1 diabetics and an automated ‘bionic pancreas’. Diabetics struggle to adequately maintain their levels of insulin, which is produced in the pancreas, so an automated system which actively monitors and manages levels is a positive step in the care of this condition. Doctors noted increased control and better overall management in test subjects.

ReSound Linx Hearing Aids

The world’s first ‘Made for iPhone’ hearing aids, Resound Linx, were developed in a collaboration between Danish hearing instruments brand GN ReSound and Apple themselves. Offering bluetooth connection between the aids and any iOS device featuring iOS 7 onwards, the aids switch from general hearing settings to a direct bluetooth link with the popular smartphone whenever video or music are played. Presets can also be made and adjusted via a dedicated mobile app.

Augmedix Health Record Access

The handsfree multi-view benefits of the Google Glass system have been embraced by the medical industry, and not just for managing medical conditions or performing surgical interventions. The Augmedix app allows Doctors to bring up a patient’s Health Records whilst they are still interacting with the patient, saving time and encouraging a more sincere rapport with the patient. The ability to verbally summon up or query specific health data contained in the Health Records is an additional benefit.

Google Glass and MedicAR

As previously mentioned, staff at Stanford University Medical Center are trialling a number of wearable devices in healthcare. A Google Glass app called MedicAR is being used during surgical procedures to show students what is happening in real time. Essentially a live streaming demonstration of any operation, the app is being used to monitor and encourage best practice, while also helping teach the surgeons of the future.

Google X contact lenses

Google’s top secret development division ‘X’, have been busy and, in an agreement with drug company Novartis, have committed to developing contact lenses that can monitor blood glucose levels. Details are shaky at this time, but Google X have a reputation for pushing the boundary so we‘re fairly sure this will become a reality, perhaps even commonplace, in future.

That concludes our summarisation of some of the most interesting integrations of wearable technology into the healthcare industry. As small, ergonomically-designed, wireless devices created to be worn in close proximity to the body you could almost say that healthcare is the perfect arena in which to prototype and develop the wearables of tomorrow.