Wearables and healthcare seems like a natural fit. We have seen tons of activity trackers and health monitoring devices at the CES earlier this year. In fact so many that one could assume they are already used in every hospital around the globe. The devices promise easy self-monitoring and diagnostics, additional and comprehensive health data about patients and the opportunity for remote observation and advise from doctors. In reality there are not many medical professionals relying on wearables yet.
The deployment of wearable technology into treatment faces some serious challenges which slow down the adoption of devices for serious healthcare usage.
It is very easy to just clip an activity tracker on your wrist and to provide your doctor with the data about your daily activity. If you are looking for help with your back pain the more or less accurate information about how active you are and how much you are sitting at work can help to detect problems. At the same time a good orthopedist will be able to perform this diagnosis without this additional data.
For real valuable insights such as your blood sugar and pressure over an extended time period wearables face the challenge of reaching a zero failure goal. Delivering information without mistakes is dependent on the technology which has to be very accurate and on the usability which has to enable patients to apply and read or connect a device without room for failure. This is very important as in case you are seriously ill every bit of information can be life saving – wrong data can be fatal.
Managing the Flood of Data
A device which collects health data within the necessary measurement accuracy is not yet very useful per se. In many cases the flood of data generated by observing one or more vital functions is not practical for medical professionals. With many patients it is close to impossible to go through a lot of information for each of them and at the same time a lot of the data might just not be relevant.
It is therefore highly important to make the data usable. This can be accomplished by marking changes in the data over time or at a specific date and by presenting the information on an easy-to-use interface.
Engaging and Comfortable Devices
Another issue current healthcare devices face are that many users tends to abandon them after a 6 months or more. The excitement about the new wearable often dwindles as the data delivered might be pretty much the same everyday. If you are a healthy and active person you will probably like an activity tracker at the beginning as it tells you how great your way of living is. After a while you might be bored seeing the same data again and again. The treatment of diseases and disabilities which can benefit from common activity trackers is limited. To get a full picture of your health you would need a couple devices as there is currently no convenient way to measure all vital functions and your activity with just one wearable.
To encourage users to wear health monitors constantly they would need to pack all necessary features for a complete picture of your current condition into one small package. In addition the data would need to deliver interactive insights along with apps to engageusers. Another way to help patients to wear a device on daily basis is to attach it to something they use everyday.
It is time to implement technology into medical treatment…
…not our lives.
A stylish wearable for everyone? Well, some of us like bracelets, some like watches and some necklaces. Some don’t like anything visible hoping for something like an disposable patch. Some of us are perfectly healthy needing only some functions, some older people will need accurate and constant monitoring of vital signs and already ill people may want something that keeps track of their specific situation. It seems to be impossible to make a one-fits-all device for truly helpful medical data.
In case wearables are adopted to support remote diagnostics we will further need to create rules and laws which restrict liability and ensure accuracy.
So to put it in a nutshell, wearables need to overcome some challenges until they are fully integrated into healthcare. Nevertheless we see some great devices already on the market which use a different approach. Standard medical equipment enhanced through technology and made practical and affordable for private usage through apps and simple interfaces. These tools are not intended to be worn throughout the day but to be either used over a specific time period or in periodical intervals. One example are patches which measure your body temperature when you are sick and send the data to your smartphone. In case the temperature exceeds a preset limit your medical professional will be alerted. Another use case are connected glucose monitors which can be used analog to standard ones, but send their data to your health cloud, so you do not have to fill in a chart to keep track of your blood sugar levels.
The time for healthcare wearables or maybe even implants may come, but it will take time. Until then, connected health gadgets are already a big step forward for patients and medical professionals.