Wearable devices in medicine: modern gadgets for health

2018-12-27

Wearable devices in medicine: modern gadgets for health

ABI Research analysts believe that volumes of the wearable medical gadget market will grow up to 33 million units by 2021. So, how do modern health control devices look like? And why are they popular?

Concept of wearable devices

Wearable devices, or wearables, are minicomputers integrated with special sensors that measure environment parameters, human physical abilities, and activity level. Devices are network-connected and synchronized with a computer or a smartphone. gadgets include fitness trackers, smart watches, glasses, and even wardrobe items (e.g., smart gloves transforming body language to text).

Wearables features:

  • Direct connection with the network.
  • Interaction with environment and owners.
  • Accomplishment of both smart device and accessories functions (watches, bracelets, trackers).

Samsung initiated the first mass production of wearable devices by issuing a smart watch phone, SPH-WP10, in 1999. By the way, the novelty was not quite popular at that time. However, the popularity of such gadget grew since 2014: the market volume reached 115.5 million units in 2017. The medical device market is considered to be one of the most rapidly increasing segments (according to Kalorama Information). Its volume was $13.2 million in 2016.

Wearables in healthcare

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Prototypes of modern wearable medical gadgets were Finnish Polar pulsimeters produced in 1977 for the national team. In 1981, the same company designed a watch with a cardiometer. These devices were non-autonomous and based on a computer up to 1995. A prototype of more modern wearable gadgets was Nike’s bracelet in 2013: it could independently monitor physical activity and send data to a PC using Bluetooth 4.0. That same year, one presented Jawbone UP24, a smart bracelet tracking sleep phases.

In 2018, a lot of electronic engineering companies produce advanced medical gadgets. In particular, it is referred to Philips Healthcare, Dexcom, Medtronic, Bioness, Fitbit, and Apple. Besides major corporations, certain startups willing to provide tough competition to giants are also engaged in the development of promising wearables for healthcare: Qardio, Health Care Originals, and Fatigue Science.

Why are gadgets popular in medicine?

  • Wearable devices allow to reduce the risk of hospitalization.
  • Decreasing the probability of physical injury.
  • They help to prevent disease progression.
  • Possibility to remotely monitor patients’ condition around the clock.

There are several types of wearable medical devices: they perform various features and can be used for different purposes.

Types of smart medical gadgets

Trackers and watches

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Modern wearable devices placed on your wrists are able to take your pulse rate as well as calculate passed kilometers, motion speed, calories, and sleep phases. Some of them are equipped with special medical sensors such as a blood glucose meter or a cardiometer and sensors for monitoring brain activity and stress level.

Google and Apple integrate their devices with functions allowing to collect information on the health condition. Similar characteristics can be also found in Samsung devices (based on Samsung Bio-Processor), which feature a high accuracy of measurement close to the laboratory one.

Examples: AliveCor cardio device for Apple Watch, K'Track Glucose blood glucose meter, Quell anaesthetic neurostimulator.

VR glasses and headsets

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Virtual reality systems and their elements such as glasses and headsets are applied not only for games but also in the healthcare sector. They allow doctors to improve service quality, make a more accurate diagnosis, as well as examine tomography images/data and ultrasound findings in a three-dimensional mode. Virtual reality glasses are also used in training of specialists.

VR devices treat posttraumatic stress disorders and help people who have lost their limbs to rearrange motion coordination.

Examples: Virtual Relief for preventing neurosis tarda, Epson Moverio BT-200 glasses, Hololense augmented reality glasses.

Sensors

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Sensors reading physical qualities and analyzing environment can be put not only in trackers and in bracelets. They are also built into earphones (Jabra Pulse with a pulsimeter) and fixed on clothes (Shine fitness button). A certain type of wearables is smart wearable devices implanted in a human body and gadgets that should be carried on medical grounds (prostheses). The latter includes insulin pumps, smart extremity and organ prostheses, and sensors in the form of hypodermal implants.

Examples: FreeStyle Libre blood glucose meter by Abbott, GlySens hypodermal blood glucose meter, smart plaster against arthritis made by scientist from Cardiff University, bionic prostheses.

Smart clothes

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Smart clothes are also referred to popular wearable devices in medicine. These things with built-in sensors allow to monitor patients’ condition. For instance, one can control a heart rhythm, blood pressure, breathing rate, and body temperature.

HeartIn, a startup co-founded by a cardiologist Dmitry Fedkov, has developed smart T-shirts with embedded sensors that make an accurate cardiogram. The product by the Ukrainian project helps to plan sports activities and prevent heart diseases.

Examples: a garment by LifeShirt System, a smart T-shirt by Sensatex.

Conclusion

Analysts from Juniper Research assert that the market of wearable medical devices will increase from $224 million to $350 million over the next two years. The majority of profit, in the experts’ opinion, will belong to companies producing highly-specialized gadgets, in particular cardio measures.

According to the report, smart glasses and smart clothes are the most rapidly growing segments (98% and 102% of growth by 2020). It is caused by the fact that technologies related to virtual reality and smart things manufacturing will be actively developing.

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