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As consumers consider lifestyle changes following the COVID-19 outbreak, they have prioritized monitoring and augmenting their health to pursue a healthier lifestyle. As a result, the wearable healthcare devices market is growing significantly, from an expected USD 27.29 billion by 2022 to an anticipated USD 324.65 billion by 20321. Improved reliability and speed of 5G and higher networks, coupled with the development of new technology, are driving this growth. In addition, unique healthcare needs and design forms have enabled emerging markets to meet consumer demand for new opportunities in this space. This post reviews three major healthcare wearable device types to help consumers improve monitoring and overall health and safety.
Smartwatches have been the standard for wearable health monitoring; Fitbit has become synonymous with health monitoring watches, with products from Apple, Samsung, and Google providing excellent, readily available alternatives. But a fundamental problem with the wrist as a biomedical monitoring point is the relative weakness of the signal strength. Early watches collected massive amounts of data and regressed trends, but with suspect accuracy; this approach rendered the data useless to medical professionals.
Compared to the wrist, the biomedical signals in the fingers are up to ten times stronger2. In an effort to better detect and measure the user's vital health metrics, designers developed wearable smart rings that use the fingers as the biomedical monitoring point. The ring includes highly-sensitive temperature sensors, accelerometers, infrared LEDs, and gyroscopes to provide measurement accuracy at the level of professional medical equipment.
Rings are much more comfortable for the user to wear during sleep and provide real-time measurements for heart rate (and changes), sleep cycles, body temperature, physical activity levels, and respiration. The accuracy of the electronic components is critical, delivering more accurate data with significantly reduced computational load due to precise local measurements.
While many healthcare wearables intend to integrate into daily life transparently, healthcare pendants are an emerging device helpful for seniors in sudden, life-threatening situations. They can provide 24-hour monitoring, GPS location tracking, and detect a fall event. In addition, some devices have bi-directional communication capability with family or emergency personnel via 5G cellular networks or Wi-Fi®.
While the bracelets and pendants accompany the user without using their hands, much of the operating technology is the same. For example, embedded accelerometers aid in fall detection, an essential feature for seniors given that 90 percent of seniors not receiving medical help within six hours become dependent on a nursing home3.
Another disruptive form factor for healthcare wearable technology is a transdermal patch that administers medicine through the skin. These patches contain a predetermined drug dosage, consistently delivering it to the bloodstream through the skin. While the concept is simple, both active and passive administration systems exist for transdermal patches.
Passive systems rely only on natural diffusion through the skin. Therefore, the administration rate can vary depending on the user’s skin characteristics and the unique patch designs. Conversely, active dosage in the body is more complex. This approach can employ microneedles, chemical enhancers, or a mild electrical current, on the order of 2-10 mA4, to drive the medicine into the skin at a designated time. These features allow improved customization for patient treatment.
The electric current transmits the medicine into the skin through iontophoresis, which requires direct current to administer treatment from the patch to the skin in one direction without interruption. A machine applies the current, accelerating the medication delivery to the skin. This approach is advantageous for ADHD, and anti-inflammatory treatments as users have varying needs for the amount of medicine they receive.
Like any consumer product, even those with clear and necessary benefits like healthcare monitoring, aesthetics, and cost will be critical factors in their adoption. Consumers will likely value the advantages, but not if the device looks and feels like a bulky meter—they will actively compare the cost and look of a device with its benefits. As a result, device engineers must consider integrating electronics’ functionality within the envelope of marketing insights to design products that consumers will actually wear. Clearing that hurdle will unlock mass adoption of new healthcare wearable devices, improving consumer health by increasing access to preventative care.
Wearable health devices have progressed significantly from early smartwatches. They are more accurate, address more aspects of health, and have become vital tools for user preventive, emergency, and treatment care. As technology continues to improve healthcare, physicians and users alike can rely on wearable devices to enhance their quality of life in a non-invasive, proactive way.
Adam Kimmel has nearly 20 years as a practicing engineer, R&D manager, and engineering content writer. He creates white papers, website copy, case studies, and blog posts in vertical markets including automotive, industrial/manufacturing, technology, and electronics. Adam has degrees in chemical and mechanical engineering and is the founder and principal at ASK Consulting Solutions, LLC, an engineering and technology content writing firm.
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