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The wearables trends to track in the year ahead

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Wearables have been big news over the past few years, no more so than in the field of healthcare.

And as the pandemic has changed the way we live, work and access healthcare, innovation in health wearables has continued apace, meaning everyone can take ownership of their physical and mental wellbeing better than ever before.

However, few of these technologies are designed for clinical use and therefore can’t diagnose medical conditions.

For example, while a Fitbit tracker can keep track of your heart rate, and the Apple Watch can run an ECG test, it is currently unrealistic to expect either to be able to diagnose a heart attack.

That’s why many of the latest developments in wearables for health focus on being used in a medical setting – technology that may then trickle down into the consumer market.

Health Tech World rounds up some of the most exciting developments in the field…

Managing diabetes

Diabetes affects nearly four million people in the UK alone, and one of the biggest challenges for patients is managing hypoglycaemia, which occurs when glucose levels in the blood drop below the required level. In fact, patients with Type 1 diabetes experience two episodes of mild hypoglycaemia a week on average.

Now, a new Artificial Intelligence (AI) technology developed in Qatar aims to make managing the condition much easier, as Dr Khalid Qaraqe, professor at Texas A&M University in Qatar, told Med-Tech News.

The AI technology can recognise symptoms of hypoglycaemia, such as tremors, from patients wearing smartwatches, which is then matched against data from Continuous Glucose Monitoring Devices: small devices that many diabetes patients have implanted directly under their skin.

The AI was then further developed into offering a predictive model rather than a reactive one, with the team finding, “We… can currently predict episodes happening between 30 seconds to one minute in advance. Our algorithms have proven to be 82 per cent accurate in adults and 86 per cent accurate in children.”

Virtual wards

Hospitals are busy places, no more so than over the past 18 months, and beds are at a premium.

Health tech start up Doccla aims to change this, with a platform that can monitor patients on hospital wards and in the home.

For many patients, they will recover better at home, surrounded by family and familiarity, but they need to be monitored – which is where Doccla comes in.

The platform enables clinicians to monitor patients at home and provide personalised feedback via texts and “video visits”.

Now the firm has received a $3.3 million seed funding round, led by Giant Ventures and Speedinvest, to continue to develop the software, which it says has already achieved a 29 per cent reduction in emergency admissions and a 20 per cent reduction in A&E attendance.

Muscle injuries

Muscle injuries can be hard to quantify. Unlike blood pressure, for example, or a temperature, there is no simple diagnostic tool to assess the extent of the injury; instead, patients and doctors rely on the traditional pain scale, which is, at best, subjective.

Now a start-up called Figur8 is attempting to bring the same quantifiable data to musculoskeletal injuries, with a sensor-based system that can track body movement and muscle activity to assess the severity of injuries, helping doctors to create treatment plans, and measure improvement.

Figur8 is currently working in clinics to gather data to improve its AI-driven predictive models, and it is hoped that the technology could enhance the home-based care that has become commonplace during the pandemic.

Sweat power

Energy consumption is dominating the headlines right now – so what if we could use our bodies to power equipment?

Granted, we’re never going to be able to generate enough power to heat a home or run a car, but the developers of a new ‘wearable microgrid’ hope it can make users more self-sufficient when it comes to energy usage.

The wearable microgrid, which looks like a plain turtleneck, with connections between electronic devices on the chest, waist and left arm, consists of three parts – sweat-powered biofuel cells, motion-powered triboelectric generators, and energy-storing supercapacitors.

The technology was developed by nanobioelectronics engineer Professor Joseph Wang, who believes it could provide a sustainable, reliable and independent electricity supply, capable of charging phones and powering biomedical sensors.

The power of scent

Our sense of smell is our most primitive sense, and scent has long been recognised as capable of transforming moods – aromatherapy is a booming business.

Now a Cambridge start-up is harnessing the power of smell and the technology of wearables to help deal with the growing mental health crisis caused by the pandemic.

eScent has developed a re-usable FFP3 face mask which offers “personalised protection assurance” via a patented self-administered scent delivery system, helping to boost the wearer’s mood.

Founder Jenny Tillotson said: “We are on a mission to help humanity recover from the pandemic, and to reconnect with our most primitive of senses – our sense of smell.”

It is clear that the future of healthcare lies in wearable technology, bringing automation and independence to the wearer while freeing up the time of clinical staff.

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