While technology has edged its way into all aspects of our lives, one area that has seen a significant improvement in convenience, data-driven insights, and increased service to others is within the healthcare ecosystem.
Significant technological advances in the medical field involve imaging services, surgical robotics, and automation, which can be seen at the forefront of care. However, one aspect of technology that has been making waves into a modern role in disease state management and health improvement, is wearables.
The past few years have seen a staggering increase in the utilization of wearable devices, which include those that focus primarily on health and wellness. As their usage and benefits are further observed, it can only be expected that more consumers and organizations, including physicians and clinical trial teams, continue to use these devices to their full spectrum.
There are numerous types of health-related wearable devices currently available. Many are categorized as activity trackers, which are the most basic form. Other devices include monitoring wearables that can measure vitals (ex: body temperature, heart rate, blood pressure, etc.) and upload said data to a secure portal.
Another sector of medical wearables, and the most advanced type, involve therapeutic devices that measure patient metrics in real-time and adjust treatment as needed. Examples of therapeutic wearables include insulin pumps, rehabilitation applications, and respiratory therapy monitoring.
Since medicine and healthcare is not a one size fits all industry, medical wearables are the future of treatment improvement as well as independence.
Applications of Medical/Lifestyle Wearables
Data For Clinical Research
Clinical research, and its capabilities, have expanded exponentially due to wearable technology. Perhaps one of the most significant benefits offered is the ability to amass trial participants from a limitless geographical location.
With wearable monitoring devices, participants can come from far and wide, which helps to ensure that the trial subjects are the best possible participants based on research criteria. Researchers have the ability to record and measure diagnostic data remotely, allowing them to expand the pool of participants and enlist those from various backgrounds and locations.
Wearables also allow clinical trial teams to monitor a participant’s health more vigilantly and in real-time. Doing so provides researchers with continuous monitory data trends and ensures immediate notification should any of the physiologic factors fall outside of the normal range, requiring medical attention. This improves the current practice standard of care and attention for study participants as well as data accuracy for reporting and file management.
Patient Health Monitoring
The COVID-19 pandemic brought on a surge of “care in place” practices, and ideologies implemented to protect physicians as well as patients. However, this practice required a reimagining of the healthcare system ‘norm’ and would have been impossible, or incredibly unsuccessful, without the evolution of wearable technology.
Many medical wearables provide the unique ability for continuous monitoring of a patient’s health. Previously, continuous monitoring required a costly hospital stay or a series of outpatient visits/check-ups. Manual devices were used to obtain readings or were given to a patient with the instruction to self-test or monitor throughout the day and record appropriately in a paper log.
Since patient compliance is one of the most challenging burdens in healthcare, manual devices are not an optimal present-day option for the majority of patients. Many people have trouble remembering to take their medications daily, let alone perform manual pulse checks or blood sugar readings.
Medical wearables currently on the market allow for uninterrupted monitoring, which requires little to no effort from the consumer. Many devices support data syncing and transfer for seamless transmission of critical information.
Most physicians can admit that one of the most challenging aspects of patient care, especially for those suffering from a chronic condition, is acknowledging that treatment success largely depends on a patient’s willingness to follow a doctor’s guidance, which is deemed adherence.
Practitioners can suggest a range of lifestyle changes or therapies that can help prevent a chronic condition from progressing. But unless the patient follows these guidelines, the treatment plan provided is essentially up to the patient. As the old proverb says, you can lead a horse to water, but you cannot force it to drink.
The Journal of Medical Internet Research published a study in 2019, which found that patients using digital health trackers were more adherent to their medications, with greater adherence observed in cases of more frequent tracking. Beyond just medication compliance, the utilization of health wearables resulted in more patients following their therapy guidelines, which ultimately lead to better outcomes and healthier lifestyles.
Medical wearables have also been shown to increase a patient’s engagement in self-care, which is an essential component of improving one’s self-directed health. Individuals who primarily suffer from poor self-care are those suffering from multiple comorbidities. In many cases, the conditions themselves make it challenging to practice healthier habits or even find the motivation to at least try. Individuals with multiple disease states can significantly benefit from improved self-care. With the evolution of health wearables, consumers can overcome monitoring barriers and ultimately improve quality of life, help prevent complications, and promote better living.
Improving mental health has also been a major topic of discussion as of late since a vast majority of people suffer from a myriad of chronic conditions. Stress is one of the biggest root causes of mental health disorders and plays a significant role in depression and anxiety. It also has the potential to increase one’s risk of physiological conditions, like heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and obesity.
As shown, stress not only affects mental health but also can contribute to poor physical wellbeing. Wearable devices such as Apollo Neuro and Lief usher in a new field of wearables that help modernize the way mood disorders are being monitored and treated.
Apollo Neuro allows mood disorders to be treated in a whole new non-pharmacologic way. Through the proprietary use of inaudible vibrations, these devices have the potential to alter mood through our sense of touch. This device is self-directed and allows the user to choose their desired mood, whether it be ‘Energy and Wake up’ or ‘Relax and Unwind.’
Lief monitors heart rate variability (HRV) to help a consumer identify their daily living stressors and self-regulate accordingly.
Both devices are drug-free therapies that allow a user to find balance and improve their mood disorder at their own pace.
Improved Patient Health Summaries
Whitecoat syndrome is a relevant phenomenon where a patient’s vitals measured at the doctor’s office are worse than they are during the regular course of daily living. The most common occurrence is increased blood pressure due to the stress of going to and/or being at the physician’s office.
A 2013 study in the journal Hypertension found that approximately 15-30% of individuals who have a high blood pressure reading at the doctor’s office suffer from white coat syndrome, which is an acute stress-related response instead of a serious chronic condition.
This syndrome can lead to inaccurate diagnoses and furthermore treatment if the vital data used at each health visit develops a trend toward hypertension over time. While taking vitals at each visit may offer only a snapshot of a patient’s blood pressure or respiratory rate, wearables provide a more comprehensive picture of a patient’s health during their normal course of daily living and activities.
Significant changes in one’s vitals can be triggered by work stress, lack of daily activity, time change, insomnia, etc. These markers can be identified using trends in wearable data, which can help differentiate a chronic condition from an acute response. A patient’s health action plan will ultimately benefit from following real-time trends in vital data as opposed to focusing on singular ‘snapshots’ in time.
Addresses Health Gaps
Significant gaps in healthcare can be observed across racial, geographical, and socioeconomic lines. All of which can have a major impact on one’s level of care. Wearable devices help bridge these gaps in numerous ways, including cost-effectiveness, language barriers, and independent living.
Although technology and health literacy remain a struggle for senior citizens, in particular, health wearables have been shown to improve independent living amongst the elderly. An American Advisors Group (AAG) survey found that over 90% of seniors between the ages of 60 and 75 wanted to remain living in their primary residence. However, a significant hurdle that makes many wary of foregoing assisted living facilities is the increased risk of falls.
According to the U.S. Center for Disease Control (CDC), one out of four Americans > 65 years of age fall on an annual basis. Furthermore, only half of these fall cases actually discuss it with their doctor, which is quite an alarming statistic. A new generation of wearables, like GreatCall, offers real-time fall detection, which can then alert caregivers or emergency services, allowing for immediate care.
The continued advancement and application of medical wearable devices within the healthcare realm are promising for both consumers and medical professionals. As wearables continue to improve mental and physical health, a new door opens for the field of medicine that does not primarily focus on medication. Instead, wearables bring data-driven technology to the forefront for a better comprehensive insight into the patient as a whole as well as extending the focus onto non-invasive care. Also, they allow consumers to live independently and ditch doctor’s office check-ups, as digital medicine is the new age of providing care.
These devices have endless applications and provide the basis that health can be monitored and improved remotely and at minimal expense. All of the wearable applications mentioned increase the quality of patient care at many different aspects of the healthcare paradigm. The future of health wearable devices is bright and will continue to overcome current barriers that are regarded as ‘norms’ of healthcare.