Not just for fitness geeks: health wearables will transform healthcare as we know it.
Heard of the quantified-self movement? It’s what most people associate with health wearables. And if you’re not part of it, you probably think it’s limited to fitness geeks, using wristband trackers from the likes of Jawbone, FitBit and Nike to monitor how many steps they take, their calorie intake, and a number of other data sets that will help them be the best them.
But when it comes to the potential of wearables and health, this is just the tip of the iceberg. A very small tip. It’s no longer about cool gadgets and fitness. It’s about potentially life-saving technology integrated seamlessly into our lives.
We’re now at a perfect intersection. Consumers’ interest in their total health is coinciding with advances in mobile technology that can make us far healthier as a population and even reduce healthcare costs. Use cases and adoption are spreading to mainstream audiences and, at the same time, to very specialized healthcare applications.
Mainstream health wearables: now and near future
Let’s start with the mainstream. One glance at supermarket shelves filled with gluten-free products confirms there’s a huge population wanting to take control over their health. With wearables, that control is supersized.
Just had a burger and soda for lunch? Imagine knowing the impact on your blood sugar, blood pressure, heart rate and hydration. Wearable sensors have the potential to give us essential biometric information in real-time to monitor what’s happening as we interact with the physical world. Information that makes counting calories seem archaic. With wearable tech, mass audiences will be able to see where important truth-telling bio spikes happen, and become empowered to make healthier decisions.
Mainstream in-market examples are already here, and as every month goes by, they’re becoming more and more intelligent.
JawBone has introduced UpCoffee, an add-on wearable that will tell you how your particular body is reacting to caffeine and its impact on your sleep. Beddit tells you exactly how you slept, including your deep and light sleep cycles, using a sensor that just slips under your bed sheet.
The Dash wireless smart earbuds serve up tunes while tracking bio vitals and active performance (currently taking pre-orders). Scanadu Scout measures and tracks your vitals including heart rate, blood pressure, respiratory rate, and others by placing the elegant device to your forehead. The company currently has a prototype and is collecting data to file with the FDA.
And the buzz is big around both Apple and Google’s inroads into wearable biotech. Apple’s iWatch is rumoured to have several biometric sensors that will track sleep, calories, blood glucose, blood oxygen levels and even UV exposure among others. And Google is partnering with Novartis to test a smart contact lens that measures blood sugar levels.
Pharma and medical: wearables will become essential
Speaking of Novartis, transformative changes are coming in the areas of pharmaceuticals and healthcare delivery with the advent of wearables. Companies like Mobile Programming already have deep hooks into the area. They’re currently working with Novartis on enterprise trials compliance apps and platforms that will vastly improve participation in clinical trials. Pharma companies can lose a large percentage of participants over the course of a trial, which may completely derail it, and bring huge losses to an already very costly part of the pharma industry. Wearables can make the process far less onerous for participants, enabling them to transmit data remotely to trial operators with very little effort — and maintain trial participation.
And Novartis is hardly alone. Mobile Programming is building technology for pharma companies around the globe such as Bayer, Amgen, Covidien, Boston Scientific, Stryker, Medtronics, Kaiser Permanente and more. Their enterprise solutions will speed up getting breakthrough drugs to market, and into the hands of those who need them.
Wearables are also making inroads into early breast cancer detection. First Warning Systems has developed a wearable that sits inside a bra and will gather data over a 2-to-12 hour period. In Australia, tests have been conducted with firefighters swallowing a data-transmitting pill that detects early signs of heat stress (and is then expelled in the usual way we expel things from our bodies).
In the area of managing serious disease, imagine an in-body wearable sensor for cardiac patients that transmits data directly to a healthcare provider’s cloud and is available to the patient’s healthcare team. Or an in-body sensor that tracks if patients have remembered to take their medication, and reminds them if they haven’t — something that already exists via the Digital Health Feedback System created by Proteus Digital Health. (According to the World Health Organization, close to 50% of patients fail to take their medication correctly.)
And not just Google, but the triumvirate of Google, Samsung and Apple are all racing to develop wearables that will transform how diabetics manage blood sugar testing and replace finger-pricking and blood-letting with unobtrusive wearables.
It’s not just medical researchers or zealous marketers driving investment. There’s strong consumer demand. A recent Accenture survey shows that patients don’t just want complimentary services along with their prescription drugs – they expect them. Pharma companies are compelled to respond and many are stepping up with wearable initiatives that will simplify tracking and alerts for patients, help them manage long-term care and provide self-health education.
Of course, in a world of bio-tech you can count on something right out of science fiction. We’re talking about the ultimate health wearables: nanobots, or tiny nanoparticles, that are injected into our bloodstream and can not only deliver drugs to specific areas of our bodies far more effectively than pills, but can even destroy cancer cells, viruses and other foreign invaders. These are currently being developed in Israel and elsewhere. Could this kind of life-saving take wearables to a next-generation ‘livables’?
Getting there faster
Among the consumer market, it’s likely that adoption will be among the young-and-plugged-in on one end — the quantified selves — and older audiences or boomers on the other end; those who may have already had a serious health event motivating them to be far more vigilant. Some researchers tracking the market suggest that the wearable health market will reach $2 billion worldwide by 2018.
However, it very well may be that enterprise carries mass adoption. The stakes are high. Reducing healthcare costs is a massive motivator. And it’s why insurance companies are reportedly looking at wearables and the possibility of rewarding those who opt in with lower premiums.
It really is conceivable that if wearables enable us to become attuned to the warning signs of serious illness or disease, that early treatments will be more effective, less costly and invasive, and people will live longer, with a better quality of life.
And if your only motivation is to be the best, healthiest you, wearables will empower you, and the rest of the quantified-self movement, to make the best choices. Or at least know the trade-offs when you don’t.