Wearable Medical Devices: A Growing Trend
In our last blog post, we discussed Internet of Things (“IoT”)-based patient monitoring systems and how they’re paving the way to improved patient outcomes.
One of the biggest phenomena to spring from the IoT revolution is the wearable medical device.
A recent analysis estimates that although the smart watch industry has felt the impact of COVID-19, the wearable technology market will reach $64 billion by 2024.
What does this triple-digit growth mean for the medical device world?
In this post, we’ll discuss the wearable medical devices market and how it’s pushing innovation in the patient monitoring space to the next level.
What are wearable medical devices?
Though it would be easy to define a wearable medical device as any device worn by a patient, it doesn’t quite describe this innovative market.
When software programmers, medical device engineers, and healthcare providers talk about “wearable medical devices,” they are typically referring to non-invasive devices worn by patients that have the ability to collect, transmit, and/or visualize important health data.
It’s important to note that some consider minimally invasive devices like continuous glucose monitors that are worn by a patient, but prick the skin to collect a sample, “wearable medical devices” as well.
For the purposes of this blog post, we will use “wearable medical devices” to refer exclusively to non-invasive products.
How will wearable medical devices transform healthcare?
The advantages of wearable medical devices reflect those of remote patient monitoring systems in general.
Though there are many ways wearable medical devices are transforming healthcare, shorter hospital stay times and increased freedom for patients are two of the driving reasons behind the growth of the wearable market.
Shorter Hospital Stay Times
The ability for a doctor to monitor a patient’s vital signs from anywhere in the world is a testament to modern medicine.
Thanks to innovations in miniaturization and wireless technology, devices that once required complex capital equipment to monitor patient vital signs—like pulse oximeters—can be purchased from the local pharmacy and used at home.
When a healthcare provider can prescribe a wearable device and trust that it will accurately collect and transmit patient data, the time the patient spends being monitored within the hospital can be reduced significantly.
Increased Freedom for Patients
Having the ability to monitor a patient’s vitals from a distance isn’t just beneficial for the healthcare provider—it’s good for the patient, too.
Wearables that enable a patient to leave the hospital without amplifying health risks give patients the freedom to live their lives.
As sensor and interconnect technology continues to improve the ability to collect and transmit health data across an ever-expanding range, more and more patients will be given the freedom to leave the hospital for their home without risking their health.
What are the different types of wearable medical devices?
There are many examples in the market and in development where wearable technology shows promise to improve patient comfort and outcomes.
In this section, we’ll talk about three wearable medical devices that have emerged as potential “game changers”: smart watches, advanced care and alert portable telemedical monitors (“AMON”), and epidermal temperature sensors.
When someone says the phrase “wearable medical device,” the image of a smart watch is typically what comes to mind.
This is for good reason.
The advancements made in the smart watch arena have been incredible.
Over the past five years, engineers within the technology and biomedical industries have been able to take a clothing accessory and turn it into a multifunctional device that can handle everything from checking email to providing an accurate EKG readout.
Though this may seem like an unbelievable leap, it is just the beginning of what will hopefully be a very promising technological innovation.
Advanced Care and Alert Portable Telemedical Monitor (“AMON”)
If you’ve ever been to a doctor for a cold, you’ve had the experience of a nurse or technician guiding you from machine to machine so that they can collect important health information before you see the doctor.
If you’ve ever undergone some sort of surgery, you were probably connected to a variety of machines that monitored your important vital signs both during and after the operation.
In both cases, multiple medical devices were required to properly monitor your health.
Products like the AMON device show potential for changing this.
The AMON device can monitor blood-oxygen saturation, blood pressure, and the electrical movements of the heart, and transmit the information to the doctor in real time—all from a single, non-invasive, wearable unit.
Improvements in sensor and wireless technology will continue to bolster the capabilities of multi-use wearables like the AMON device.
Epidermal Temperature Sensors
Healthcare providers typically split body temperature into two categories: skin temperature and core temperature.
As can be surmised from the name, skin temperature is the temperature of your skin.
Skin temperature can provide insight into blood circulation, heart rate, and metabolic rate.
Core temperature is the measure of the operating temperature of the internal organs and structures of the body.
Due to the insulation and regulation mechanisms within the body, core temperature typically varies much less than skin temperature.
Unfortunately, gathering an accurate measure of both temperatures requires different methods and devices, making continuous monitoring difficult.
Skin temperature is typically measured using devices like infrared thermometers, while core temperature is usually measured using a thermometer that is inserted rectally or orally.
However, researchers and engineers are currently working to solve this problem by creating wireless, wearable sensors that utilize RFID thermometers to provide accurate, continuous monitoring of both skin and core temperature simultaneously.
Though still in the early stages, this technology shows great potential as a next-generation wearable device.
As can be seen from the information above, the wearable medical devices market is just beginning to blossom.
Like many devices today, wearables live at the crossroads of sensor and interconnect technology.
For this reason, we recommend working with a partner who has experience creating wearable technology.
For more information on what it takes to develop an interconnect-based wearable device, download our free ebook.