What’s New in Wearable Health Technology
Think monitoring your health through something you wear sounds a little sci-fi? Think again. Today, more than half of Americans (56% to be exact) own some kind of smart device tracking everything from pulse to sleep cycles and more. While current technology may not yet be able to, say, neurologically control a robotic arm (think Luke Skywalker or Marvel’s Bucky Barnes), wearable tech is rapidly advancing—especially in the healthcare space.
So what’s trending with wearable health technology? For starters, wearables are no longer just for fitness nerds logging steps and recording heart rates after a Crossfit WOD. In fact, health tech has gone from simple hobby to medical-grade and FDA-approved in just a matter of a few years. The truth is there’s something for everybody when it comes to wearable health technology. Here’s a peek at just some of today’s tech changing how we do both fitness and healthcare.
For the everyday Joe (and Jane)
Debuting in 2008, Fitbit quickly rose in popularity and remains a household name in fitness trackers. While early Fitbits captured data on movement, sleep, and calories burned, the technology has quickly evolved to go beyond the basics. Now, Fitbits can measure breathing, pulse and altitude climbed, as well as logging glucose levels (more on that below), and giving feedback on how your body handles stress.
Next up, smartwatches have taken fitness tracking to a whole new level. Sure, the first smartwatches were basically glorified pedometers, but as technology has boomed with new capabilities and ever shrinking components, these compact pieces of tech go way beyond counting steps.
Now anyone can get in-depth health metrics without visiting the doctor’s office. In 2020, Apple released its latest Series 6 smartwatch that monitors blood oxygen saturation, sleep cycles, heart rhythms using FDA-approved electrocardiogram (ECG) sensors, and even more in-depth health monitoring.
For heart health patients
While Apple’s Series 6 smartwatch has heart monitoring functions, the Move ECG by Withings is an award-winning choice for heart health. Not only does this sleek analog-looking device collect your heart rhythm data, but the software analyzes the data and can communicate directly with your doctor.
The Move ECG can also detect atrial fibrillation, a possibly life-threatening condition which can lead to stroke (frightening stat: almost 3 million Americans unknowingly suffer from afib). If you feel an irregular heartbeat or palpitation, you simply press and hold the side button for 30 seconds. Sensors on the back create a medical-grade ECG and can send the info to your doctor or store the data for later.
Monitoring blood pressure outside the doctor’s office is a gamechanger for many heart-conscious patients. Omron’s HeartGuide wears like a wristwatch and allows users to track and monitor blood pressure and pulse fluctuations throughout the day. Inside the wristband, a tiny inflatable cuff fills with air to get the readings. The HeartGuide is also a fitness tracker so users can better understand how their everyday lifestyle affects their heart health.
For the hospital or nursing home patient
When you or a loved one are admitted to a hospital or nursing home, keeping tabs on vitals is a necessary part of healthcare management. But traditional vital monitoring is bulky and leaves patients physically tethered to machines by wires. No, thank you.
Enter the Philips biosensor, an adhesive patch that sticks anywhere on the skin and sends data wirelessly to the healthcare team. Now nurses and doctors can monitor heart rate and respirations—and even be alerted if the patient has fallen or is having a heart attack—all while giving patients more freedom to move around and peace.
Still in development, a Japanese professor has created a wearable biosensor called e-skin. Similar to the Philips biosensor, e-skin monitors heart rate, rhythms, and respirations. But what makes e-skin unique is its super thin application that resembles, well, skin. The “skin” is embedded with thin electrodes that wirelessly connect to a smartphone, computer, or the cloud so doctors can easily monitor patients no matter if they’re in a hospital bed or at home.
For the athlete
Fitness trackers and smartwatches can detect and analyze heart health, sleep, activity, and more. But what about the serious athlete needing to replenish fluids after a killer workout or competition? With any physical activity, dehydration is a real risk. And on the flip side, drinking too much water (called hyponatremia) can be a life-threatening situation and is more common than you might think with endurance athletes.
That’s what led a group of researchers to team up with Epicore Biosystems to release the Gx Sweat Patch in March 2021. Sweat might seem like an unusual fluid to measure, but since perspiration contains sugar, salts, and even hormones, measuring sweat can give a real-time snapshot of overall health.
To use the sensor, simply stick the small patch to the skin and let the sweat come as it may. Two microchannels capture perspiration where it interacts with chemicals that change the color of the patch. Users snap a photo of the sensor with their smartphone, then interface with the app to get recommendations for how much water and sodium to stay balanced and hydrated.
For the cancer fighter
In 2021, it’s estimated 1.9 million Americans will be diagnosed with cancer. Cancer treatment is complex, but often includes regular measurements of circulating tumor cells (CTCs), an important benchmark determining treatment plans. CTCs are usually collected at a routine laboratory visit, but unfortunately the results are often undiagnostic since the blood samples don’t always contain enough CTCs.
That drove University of Michigan researchers to develop a prototype called the Cancer Cell Detector, a wrist-worn device that detects CTCs. Instead of taking a quick blood sample, this new device collects blood over the course of a few hours to ensure enough CTCs are captured to get a diagnostic reading. Still in development, the Cancer Cell Detector is undergoing clinical studies, but proves to be a welcomed piece of wearable health tech for cancer patients in the future.
For the diabetic
Did you know diabetes is the 7th leading cause of death in the US? And 1 in 3 Americans has prediabetes—a condition where blood sugar levels are elevated but not high enough to be considered diabetes—but 84% of them don’t even know it. Yikes. Unchecked blood sugar can cause all sorts of health problems like blindness, nerve damage, heart issues, skin conditions, hearing impairment, and even death.
At DeveloperTown, we’re excited about changing the landscape of diabetic care and saving lives with wearable tech. One of our favorite products we’ve had a hand in developing is a diabetic tool for Fitbit integration. Some Fitbit users can now track their blood sugar levels over time, set personalized ranges, and since it's joined with a fitness tracker, see how lifestyle and exercise affect their blood glucose levels.
For the [fill in the blank]
The future of wearables is only limited by our imaginations. Have an idea for a health product or tech integration? We’re here to help. At DeveloperTown, we know the ins and outs of wearables, including healthcare technology. Contact us today and lets flex those creative problem solving muscles together.