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Opinion

The rise of wearable devices in healthcare

By Dr Andrew Feeney, IEEE member and lecturer in Ultrasonics at the University of Glasgow

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Wearable

Since 2020, the disruption to the healthcare sector has reignited the discussion around how to best administer treatments and monitor patient outcomes. A major outcome of the pandemic has been a renewed focus on improving healthcare accessibility, especially for those who do not receive regular in-person support.

Undoubtedly, telemedicine has significantly grown in popularity on a global scale, partly due to the rapid advances in general wearable technologies.

Today, it is possible to remotely monitor a wide range of medical conditions associated with a single patient in real-time, allowing rapid and tailored treatments and outcomes wherever relevant.

In fact, according to the National Library of Medicine, the pandemic has accelerated the development and uptake of wearable devices.

The research found that, since 2020, a number of wearables and IoT-based devices have been introduced by researchers, providing decent results with high accuracy.

This allows health professionals to diagnose patients in the prodromal phase and monitor symptoms such as heart and respiratory rates, as well as temperature.

Essentially, advanced wearable devices for healthcare monitoring can generate large quantities of data.

This ensures the potential for rapid responses to future crisis, whereby particularly vulnerable patients with severe health conditions will continue to have access to the best quality care possible.

Predictions for wearable devices

In general, a wide variety of physiological and medical conditions can now be remotely monitored.

Going forward, it is expected that efforts will be directed more towards ensuring wearable devices are accessible for all patients.

This, as well as being straightforward and intuitive to operate, with no uncertainty regarding the safety of the patient and the protection of confidential information, is essential.

According to a Healthline article, the transition of current wearable devices to those which are more tailored to the patient, will help define the future landscape.

Technological advancements such as speed in communication, improved battery life, and data processing capabilities, are constantly progressing.

With these developments, the number of conditions which can be remotely monitored with reliability will continue to grow.

Sophisticated technologies in healthcare

Big data is an important concept, as the healthcare sector is made up of vast quantities of important patient information.

In most cases, artificial intelligence (AI) is utilised to ensure the confidentiality of this data, tracking a range of conditions using machine learning.

In essence, patterns are recognised, which builds a picture of a patient’s health with potential outcomes.

Using AI strategies combined with wearable devices, means it will be possible to monitor multiple health indicators simultaneously, and deliver procedures and drugs.

The varying types of detailed monitoring

Today, there is a wide array of monitoring technologies available. One of the key challenges with this, is widening the access for patients and ensuring that the information provided is trustworthy and reliable.

For example, a particular symptom could be associated with a range of medical conditions, meaning the monitoring process must be suitably equipped to account for this.

Blood pressure is a common condition which can be monitored remotely, through a device on the wrist, but there could be concerns regarding its usefulness. Therefore, it is evident that further patient-oriented development is required.

In addition, continuous glucose monitoring (CGM) is possible with a device which can be attached to the arm, whereby results are communicated through a mobile app.

Combinations of these monitoring technologies have been successfully applied for remote maternity monitoring, meaning it is now possible to monitor specific mental health conditions, including stress and depression.

This is done through critical markers such as neural response, breathing and heart rates, and physical activity level.

Given the unpredictability and severity of many of these conditions, remote detailed monitoring is essential to ensure the general health and wellbeing of society.

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