What is a wearable health system?
Wearable health systems are systems that allow health services to monitor patients over long periods of time outside of hospital. It means that patients do not need to be detained in hospital unnecessarily and can live at home and have more independence in their everyday lives. They can take control of their health and have much great involvement in spotting potential problems before they occur. At the moment 7 out of 10 adults in the US say that they track one health indicator, and this can only increase in the future.
The systems are becoming increasingly advanced due to better technology, and by customers demanding improved treatment at home. Providers of wearable technology are switching many of their resources from concentrating on fitness technologies to health technologies, because it is expected that this is where the greater growth will be seen. Heart rate monitors and devices which show when people have had falls are expected to have particularly large growth. By 2016 it is expected that there will be wearable devices for measuring blood oxygen, hydration and blood sugar. Already devices that can record health are undergoing big leaps in sales – in 2014 there are estimated to be about 10 million sales of smart glasses, smart watches and fitness bands, the revolution is underway.
There will be problems with incorporating wearable devices into the overall health system because doctors already have established procedures and the data being brought into the system will have to be incorporated into that. And it remains to be seen to what happens if people don’t want doctors seeing all their data, it seems likely that patients will own their data and be able to control what doctors are able to see. Instead of managing a bank account patients can now manage their health account.
And of course there will be a financial cost, although the financial gains of preventing disease would seem to be likely to outweigh the costs of the devices. And patients would have less visits to the doctors saving money in this way.
It seems likely that the move toward wearable health products will be driven by patients rather than government and this would seem to be a good thing, because patients would be getting what they want.
Some of the main companies involved in creating wearable health systems are Qarido, Playtabase and Wealth. Playtabase has created a bracelet called the Reemo which was designed for the elderly and the ill to be able to control everything in their house – TVs, lights, and alarm clocks for example. It works by the user moving their arm and thus the bracelet in a certain direction, and communicating with devices around the house. It could soon become popular with the wider consumer market as well as just it’s original target market.
Wealthy was one of the first wearable healthcare systems and has been around for ten years but it was based on wearing clothes that contained the sensors and was primarily designed to help cardiac patients who had already had heart problems. It wasn’t a preventative system like we are seeing coming to the forefront now.
So the benefits of wearable health could be massive. Instead of relying on patient reports of what has happened to them, doctors will be able to clearly see the data for themselves over periods of a month or a few months and then act accordingly by bringing the patient in to see them if necessary.