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Science & Innovation

The Next 30 Years: Wearable Health Devices - The Revolution is Just Getting Started

WearablesIf you use a wearable device to count your steps, check your heart rate, or analyze your sleep patterns, you’re not alone. Already, about one in five Americans own a wearable device, and the global market is worth $15 billion, with estimated growth to $19 billion by 2019.1

Today’s devices help consumers track a variety of health and fitness related metrics, from blood pressure to body temperature. And the revolution in health and fitness tracking wearables is just getting underway.  Some believe that as the technology matures, widespread use of smart wearable devices will result in dramatic improvements in health outcomes.

In the medical setting, wearable devices could help generate more accurate information for patient care and might reduce costs through remote patient monitoring. For organizations that conduct clinical trials, wearables could result in more robust data gathering and potentially improved patient enrollments.

Wearables could also enhance the effectiveness of employer-sponsored health and wellness programs. About 70 percent of consumers say they would wear an employer-provided smart device designed to collect and aggregate anonymized health data if it meant getting a break on health insurance premiums.2

A surprising number of innovative wearable technologies were recently developed or are in the works. A team at Google has developed contact lenses that can monitor glucose levels in tears and transmit that data back to the diabetic patient or the healthcare provider.3 Another new device, worn on the wrist, tracks UVA and UVB exposure in real time and vibrates when it’s time to apply more sunscreen.4

At the same time, wearables are becoming smaller and more discreet, which will help drive adoption.One of the latest wearable cardiac monitoring and ECG recording devices is not part of a bulky watch, but rather, built into a flexible, soft, patch-like sensor that conforms to the contours of the body.

The excitement surrounding wearables is tempered by privacy and security concerns that must be addressed. Despite these concerns, development of health wearables continues at a rapid pace. One company hopes to use wearables to record real-time data for patients with multiple sclerosis, epilepsy or Parkinson’s disease. Another company is working on ingestible sensors that could be incorporated directly into drugs. Yet another company is developing pill caps that track whether patients are taking their medicine.5

These developments will only continue as wearables become less expensive, more powerful and better integrated with the existing data ecosystem—in particular, the smartphone, now ubiquitous, and in a sense also a “wearable” device.



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