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The Impact of Smart Wearables on the Health Sector

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From the funky wristwatches of the late 2000s to today’s fitness bands, watches have dramatically evolved in recent years. Now, wearables, as they’re known, are changing the way consumers interact with the environment, and their popularity is growing more than ever.

Back in April 2018, a Florida teenager received a notification from her Apple Watch that her resting heart rate had hit 190 beats per minute, and that she should immediately seek medical attention. Upon diagnosis, it was found that she had a chronic kidney disease and the notification helped in diagnosing it promptly and preventing any major mishap. Such incidents have been increasing in the recent past as more consumers adopt a smart wearable to track their overall health. The healthcare system is undergoing a seismic shift in how information is obtained and disseminated. Consumer wearable makers are enabling more sophisticated measurements of health data, as they pursue a global wearable market expected to grow from around US$35 billion in 2020 to nearly US$115 billion by 2028. By getting closer to health data and insights, though, they are moving into territory that may require greater trust from both users and health care providers.

Since 2014, Fitbits (recently received FDA approval), have used tracking technology to monitor heartbeats automatically, all day, during workouts and beyond. This perpetual tracking can give wearers of the device the ability to document heart rhythms that may not be picked up during a planned trip to the doctor’s office. There are several features for Apple Watch that can help people in dire circumstances including the ability to call 911 right from the wrist, fall detection, irregular heart rhythm notifications and an ECG app. It is important that the consumers know what all these wearables have to offer as they can be lifesaving when facing any urgent medical emergency.

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What does it really mean when your Fitbit says you’ve completed 14,000 steps in a day? By itself, that is just information. It becomes valuable when doctors and medical analysts transform that this data into actionable knowledge about how those steps helped you burn a specific number of calories, and that increasing those steps will help you maintain your ideal weight. But for companies, it is just one of the invaluable datasets that they are storing along with millions of other data sets from other consumers because this is the key information that will help in shaping up the medical developments of the future.

With the growing importance of big data in various sectors, there are further advantages of gathering all this data from the wearables. Through patient record analysis, data software’s can flag any inconsistencies between a patient’s health and drug prescriptions, alerting health professionals and patients when there is a potential risk of a medication error. Secondly, a high volume of people stepping into emergency rooms are recurring patients also called “frequent flyers” and account for up to 28% of visits. Big data analysis could identify these people and create preventive plans to keep them from unnecessarily returning. Also, big data’s predictive analysis could help hospitals and clinics estimate future admission rates, which helps these facilities allocate the proper staff to deal with patients. This would save money and reduce emergency room waiting times when a facility is understaffed.

Over the next ten years, we may well see the revolution of disease treatment and diagnosis. Smart wearable devices are reshaping the way we receive healthcare and are equipping companies, doctors, and patients with innovative insights and analytics. One such example are smart patches, which have been added as a new category in the latest forecast for wearable electronic devices. Smart patches are non-invasive health-monitoring sensors that stick to the skin surface and are used to measure temperature, heart rate, blood sugar and other vital statistics more effectively than other wearable technologies. They can also remotely administer medication, such as insulin for diabetic patients. Some other areas where significant developments are ongoing include protections against concussions, asthma monitoring, posture correction, blood sensors.

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The future definitely looks bright but it is left to be seen as to how much value these future products would actually provide. As health care shifts to a patient-centric model, consumer health wearables can play a central role in prevention and care while laying the foundation for the future of health—in which care leverages data to support preventive approaches and overall patient wellness. But until device makers can guarantee data validity and user privacy, consumer wearables will likely face concerns from users and uncertainty from medical professionals.

Author profile

I am a 1st year MSc student studying EMIT at Bocconi University and I come from New Delhi, India. I am highly interested in innovation and technology, love travelling and following different sports.

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