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Wearable technology continues to grow and adapt to meet the ever-changing needs of our world. In the fast-moving arena of mHealth (mobile Health), health and fitness applications encourage us to be more engaged in our own care and help modify our behavior by reminding us to exercise or take our vitamins.
Technology Meets Healthcare
Medical applications also provide a way for patients and healthcare professionals to share data and collaborate on health strategies. Wearable technologies aimed at helping patients and consumers stay healthy and fit have the potential to improve our own health as well as the health of society as a whole.
With the advent of the Apple Watch, the pace of growth in wearables is likely to speed up. The global market for wearables in health and fitness is predicted to reach 170 million devices by 2017.
The fitness and wellness market uses clips, straps or bangles to record and analyze activity in increasingly high-tech ways. The most popular devices help us track and monitor sleep patterns, fitness levels, calorie intake and other biological functions. Others encourage us to take an active role in improving our overall health by providing goals and challenges.
Most importantly, wearable technology will put a patient’s real-time personal health data into his or her own hands. Ten or fifteen years ago, patients relied solely on a doctor’s professional opinion for feedback on treatment and health. Now with wearable apps, patients can monitor their own health from home. They can educate themselves and make decisions on issues that affect their overall health and wellness.
Strengths and Weaknesses
Views on what works best are constantly changing, with most wearables having inherent strengths but also weaknesses. As a result there is no clear market leader or clear winner in terms of impact on personal health. Some studies have shown that they encourage people to exercise more, but evidence on sustainability is lacking. Further, the technology is evolving very rapidly. So today’s fitness ‘bands’ and smartwatches are likely to look 'old' in under a year.
Putting It To The Test
The hands-free aspect of wearables is being trialed by surgeons in hospitals throughout the United States, enabling surgeons to bring up diagnostic images in the viewer and compare them with actual surgical sites. It also enables them to capture the full details of the operation, which can then be used to educate and train other surgeons. However, hospitals that are experimenting with these applications are doing so very carefully, obtaining patient consent before procedures and using encrypted networks to ensure they comply with regulations there to protect patient privacy.
A significant opportunity exists to engage patients in at-home medical management using emerging wireless sensor technology. Secure, non-intrusive medical monitoring can offer a better quality of life for millions of patients with chronic conditions or age-related illnesses, while providing critical data for healthcare providers at a dramatically reduced cost
Health Goals With Money Gains
One New York health insurer called Oscar recently announced it has developed a partnership with a wearable-device company, beginning a program that will link customer biometric information straight to their health insurance.
Starting in January, clients can opt to receive a free wristband pedometer that will connect automatically to the insurer's app. Once set up, the app will pay you to walk. Each day you get a target for the number of steps to take. Hit the goal and you make money. “We want to get people outside and to be physically active,” says Oscar’s co-founder Mario Schlosser. “It’s to prevent you from getting sick in the first place—get people to be physically active and push them to do more through financial rewards.”
If successful, the insurer stands to get a big financial reward too. As in health insurance, active healthier clients are cheaper clients. “Walking more improves blood pressure, weight, and mental health.” said Schlosser in Forbes.
As far as health-tracking goes, this step-counter is just the first step. Wearables will be able to monitor your heart rate and blood pressure. Using the data alongside tested algorithms, apps will be able to detect your stress levels, cardiovascular health, and nutrition—all in real time.