Wearable technology and the future of healthcare

By Tom Wright, Digital Marketing Executive

The sight of wearable technology is becoming increasingly familiar in everyday life. In 2021, wearable sales shot up by a quarter, and now around half of us now use some form of wearable technology. Smartwatches, such as the Apple Watch or Fitbit, remain the most popular form of wearable. Such devices are popular, not just for being the latest must-have accessory, but because they really do feedback a wealth of useful information to the user on their health and fitness.

Wearable technology also provides a unique opportunity for healthcare providers to monitor and enhance the health of their patients. And advances in sensory technology and AI could allow patients with chronic health conditions to manage their health more effectively.

In this article, we explore the exciting potential of wearable technology in the world of healthcare.

What is wearable healthcare technology?

Consumer wearables have many functionalities that can be leveraged in healthcare settings. The core function of the smartwatch, for example, is to process and store data related to the user’s health and fitness.

Measurements related to blood pressure, body temperature, blood oxygen and heart rate can all be monitored using smartwatch technology. This information can not only be used to track overall fitness and wellbeing, but also the specific health conditions of the user.

For example, healthcare practitioners (HCPs) can track calorie expenditure and exercise routines of patients experiencing obesity-related symptoms. By using a smartwatch to measure physical activity, these symptoms can be managed with greater precision and effectiveness.

Indeed, while wearables offer promise in many areas of healthcare, it is in the management of chronic or serious conditions, such as diabetes, cancer, heart disease and obesity where the potential is greatest.

Managing such conditions can be hugely challenging, both for the patient and the healthcare provider. And this is where the application of wearable technology can assist. On the side of the HCP, data generated from wearable technology can help to triage at-risk patients, referring them for preventative care before their condition worsens.

Likewise, wearable technology can empower the patient with greater information, encouraging them to monitor and attend to their health more closely than they perhaps otherwise would.

Wearable devices in healthcare

From Fitbits to biosensors, the growth of the wearables industry has spawned a multitude of innovative devices and products.

Fitness trackers

Wearable fitness trackers, such as the Fitbit Flex, were among the earliest, simplest, and most popular form of wearable device. The Fitbit Flex is equipped with sensors which helped to track heart rate and physical activity, leading to the popular pastime of step counting among wearers.

Smartwatches

The latest smartwatch technology includes a host of tools that can be applied in healthcare settings. The Apple Watch Series 7, for example, includes an electrocardiogram (ECG) sensor, blood oxygen monitor, and heart health monitoring tech.

Wearable ECG monitors

While the Apple Watch Series 7 boasts an ECG sensor, wearable ECG monitors offer greater functionality for those wishing to track their cardiovascular health. For example, the Move ECG can measure ECGs and send readings to a user’s doctor, as well as monitor heart rhythm, heart rate, and blood pressure.

Biosensors

Of all the wearable devices on the market, it is biosensors that perhaps hold the greatest promise for healthcare. The technology is still in its infancy, but already products are available such as the Philips Biosensor BX100 self-adhesive patch, which allows patient and HCP to measure vital signs including heart rate, respiratory rate and skin temperature. According to research conducted by the Augusta University Medical Center, the Phillips Biosensor reduces preventable cardiac or respiratory arrest by nearly 90%.

The future of healthcare?

Wearable technology is advancing at a rapid pace. Today, a smartwatch owner is able to track their health and fitness with a degree of detail that would have been unthinkable a decade ago.

For the average consumer, this technology may only ever be used to track fitness goals. But for those at risk of disease or living with chronic illness, devices such as the smartwatch, ECG monitor or biosensor may potentially be lifesaving. Equally, from the perspective of healthcare professionals, such devices may also revolutionise how chronic diseases are monitored and managed in future. With a global shortage of healthcare professionals, tech that empowers patients and caregivers to engage in more effective health management could be revolutionary.

Tom is the Digital Marketing Executive at Thrive. He is passionate about all things digital, and specialises in content strategy and creation.

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