Wearables are starting to appear on the wrists, necks, waistlines and faces of the general public, with the market for wearables predicted to grow from $23 billion in 2018 to $54 billion by 2023. The likes of Fitbit and the Apple Watch have proved popular for tracking steps, exercise metrics, stress levels and more. But the technology also has targeted applications in healthcare. With wearable technology on both the public and patients, the world’s health will significantly improve.

Wearables for diabetics

Take, for example, people suffering with type 2 diabetes. This disease can lead to several co-morbid conditions like glaucoma, gangrene and cardiovascular disease. It worsens over time if left untreated – or if a treatment plan isn’t fully followed. Making it a prime candidate for wearable technology.

A trial in the UK’s National Health Service (NHS) is looking at whether diabetic patients will benefit from wearable technology combined with digital services. The devices help to monitor their exercise levels and encourages them to keep their activity levels up, to combat obesity and improve circulation. Combined with the digital services like online health coaching and peer support groups, the wearables are empowering patients to take control of their prognosis and ultimate wellbeing.

A wearable blood pressure monitor

Likewise, Omron Healthcare has developed a wearable blood pressure monitor called the HeartGuide, which looks like a smartwatch and measures a person’s blood pressure. Enabling physicians to optimise treatment plans based on the readings. Vitally, because it tracks blood pressure over a longer period of time compared to an in-clinic measurement, the device can provide more accurate readings that haven’t been affected by anxiety, stress, caffeine or ‘white coat syndrome’.

Accurate and timely data

Therein lies the huge potential offered by wearables. Healthcare professionals and researchers can rest assured that the data collected by wearables is accurate and timely – giving a more comprehensive view of a patient compared to in-person meetings. Plus, wearables collect more data than once-a-month appointments. With more data at their fingertips, clinicians can find innovative treatment plans, link local (or even global) health to certain behaviour, and carry-out more preventative medicine.

Patient-centred care

Patients are also more likely to engage with it, as it’s relatively simple to wear a smartwatch compared to visiting a doctor every month. For resource-strapped organisations like the NHS, this also helps to redirect resources into other areas instead of follow-up appointments.

Wearables put patients at the centre of their care. They can track their data and make lifestyle choices that improve their health. It provides the information they need to collaborate with their care team and lead on their disease management.

Ethical considerations

However, there are ethical issues to consider. First, there remains a grey area over who owns the data collected by wearables. It may be the patient, who generates the data in the first place, or the device vendor. But what of the healthcare organisation and the care team?

Once ownership is established, rules around the use of such data must also be defined. Health data is incredibly sensitive and personal, so patients won’t want their data to be used for anything other than their wellbeing. Of course, this also means it needs the highest levels of protection as a data breach will significantly impact patients’ trust in  healthcare wearables.

Better health for all

Still, the benefits of wearables in healthcare are undeniable for professionals and patients alike. The sector must address any concerns around use and data early-on, for wearables to reach their full potential. Once they do, we will see a step-change in global health for the better.

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Tech for Life is a movement. We champion the responsible creation and use of technology, and provide leaders with a framework based on our guiding principles. The forthcoming Tech for Life book outlines our vision for a world where technology works for us, not against us. It provides examples of how responsible technology is already being created and used. And it calls for leaders in technology to commit to the five Tech for Life principles. Tech for Life is based in Copenhagen, Denmark.