From popular pedometers to life-changing glucose monitors, more and more people are adopting medical technologies they can wear. Over 20% of consumers claim to have purchased a wearable device, and some estimates foresee 3 billion wearable sensors in use by 2025. Even though wearable devices seem to be a shoe-in solution for monitoring our bodies and our activity levels, for a device to be successful, it should offer a genuine benefit and demonstrate the ability to improve quality of life.
Wearables in healthcare are currently geared toward allowing patients to perform some preventive healthcare solutions without visiting hospitals or seeing caregivers. Many wearable devices can also shorten hospital stays or make day-to-day life simpler by streamlining some at-home processes or making them less painful and less cumbersome. In a nutshell, wearables today best-offer peace-of-mind and mitigate some common physical challenges and discomforts.
The future of wearables is bright. Right now, a bigger challenge to the industry than determining the possibilities of wearables is determining which of those many ideas offer the best solutions for patients in the near future. Although the potential of interventional measures is attractive, for the most part devices that offer them remain a ways off.
Between where wearables are now and the future they could provide, there is a large need for two things: data and data analysis. Lots of talk is heard about the ability of wearable devices to collect information, but then what? Until enough data is collected and that information analyzed and proven to have significant insights, many of the potential applications of wearables will remain just that — potential. This means one of the key challenges to wearables in the years ahead is to offer real benefits to patients who use the devices while collecting data that could have a substantial impact in the future.
Recent innovations and important considerations
Even today wearable devices can go well-beyond monitoring vital signs and activities.
- A more recent technology called electroactive polymers (EAPs) allows expandable sensors to measure volume, which could have significant effects in spirometry or even vascular applications.
- Small EKG/ECG pads provide monitoring and detection for cardiac conditions and can be woven directly into clothing fabrics.
- Several insulin and oxygen advances have led to wearables small and light enough to be worn on a belt in a device the size of a cell-phone.
- A new patch for diabetes patients, which is about the size of a coin, can be worn on the arm and entirely eliminates pin pricking for the blood samples required for glucose monitoring.
Along with these innovations, there are now clothing pieces capable of detecting indications in the skin that could serve as early warning signs for diseases such as cancer. However, early detection of diseases like cancer raises an important question about the value of what people can know and the viability that they would want to. This same conflict was also raised by advances in molecular genetic testing, which can discern the predisposition of patients toward possible diseases and defects.
Wearables are more than cool tech. They are tools that can and will change the way the world views and handles healthcare. The future of these devices holds more than awe-inspiring advances; serious questions are arising about what health information can and should be known and by whom. What we do know is that good wearable device development in the near future should offer services to patients that make their everyday lives easier and their long-term care less overwhelming.
Parker is here to help make wearable innovations a reality
With our unparalleled engineering tradition, Parker is positioned at the forefront of several wearable technologies and is the perfect partner to help any OEM from initial design to prototyping to testing to distribution. We offer an extensive breadth of wearable technologies, including EAP sensors, EMI shielding, seals and O-Rings and homogenous antibacterial polymers among others. Our experts, facilities and experience will get your products to market faster, more cost-effectively and with more success.
To learn more about all that Parker has to offer the medical device industry, visit www.parker.com/medical.
This article contributed by Thomas Powell, Life Sciences, Parker Hannifin Corporation.