In the face of growing healthcare challenges such as an aging population, chronic diseases, and high cost of hospitalization, wearable patient monitoring (WPM) systems create new opportunities for improving patient care.
From modish wearables that track general fitness, these systems have matured to medical-grade devices that can monitor chronic diseases and other medical conditions. Wearables fitted with advanced biosensors and integrated with a robust IoT platform for analysis and communication constitute a potential solution for early detection of clinical deterioration, timely response by medical staff, and appropriate medical intervention.
Types of Medical Wearables
Wearable devices in health monitoring fall into two broad categories: motion trackers and sensors that measure vital signs. Motion trackers monitor human activity and may use a combination of accelerometer, gyroscope, and magnetometer to track bodily movements. Continuous monitoring of bodily activity is useful for fall detection, gait analysis, or sleep assessment.
Wearables developed to track vital signs measure blood pressure, body temperature, heart rate, etc. Apart from wearable devices, smart clothing where sensors are woven directly into the fabric is also in vogue.
5 Wearables Designed for Patient Convenience
While healthcare wearables can include smart watches, jewelry, smart clothing, or fitbits, here are some interesting WPM systems that go beyond tracking distance walked or calories consumed to improve patient health.
- Smart gloves are used to monitor stiffness in finger joints in patients with rheumatoid arthritis and those recovering from hand surgery or stroke. ActionSense glove is one such wearable. It collects data on the flexibility and finger joint movement of the wearer through sensors placed on the fingers. This data can be sent wirelessly to a remote application for detailed analysis.
The RAPAEL Smart Glove uses Bluetooth sensors to measure the patient’s finger movements during exercise. The glove, which has an exoskeletal design, integrates gamification to encourage and motivate patients with neurological and musculoskeletal injuries into exercising.
- Finger pulse oximeters are small, lightweight monitors that can be attached to a patient’s fingertip to measure oxygen levels in blood non-invasively. In people with COPD, asthma, and other lung diseases, pulse oximetry helps monitor oxygen saturation level at home and assists doctors in managing the disease remotely.
Oxxiom is a wireless single-use pulse oximeter, claimed to be the first of its kind for continuous 24-hour monitoring. It measures arterial oxygen saturation (SpO2), pulse rate, and perfusion index of the wearer. The device, which has won multiple awards for its unique comfortable design, is awaiting FDA clearance for widespread clinical adoption.
Oxxiom pulse oximetry system measures SpO2
- Smart pregnancy trackers, as the name indicates, are for expectant mothers. From wrist bands that reduce morning sickness to devices to record and share baby’s heartbeat, wearables for pregnancy are aimed to help women cope with changes and also manage their health. Elvie, a pelvic floor exercise device, for instance, tracks muscle movements during Kegel exercises and tells the user whether they are performing them correctly.
Bloomlife is a wearable patch to track uterine contractions at home. It syncs data from the baby bump to a smartphone, allowing pregnant women to measure the timing of contractions in their third trimester. In short, Bloomlife helps women better interpret what is happening, from early contractions to labor.
Patient seeing contractions as they happen using Bloomlife
- Fall detection systems are a boon to the elderly, whose already frail bodies can suffer irreparable damage upon taking a bad fall. Without immediate help and care, falls may even be fatal.
Automated fall detection systems have inbuilt sensors capable of differentiating between daily activities and a fall. These can be worn on the waist or as pendants. Traditionally, fall detectors have a button which when pressed connects to a monitoring center or 911 dispatch center. More recent ones are truly automatic and do not require the patient to press button to send alerts.
FallAlert from 112Motion is a fully automated fall detector worn as a watch or bracelet. It detects if there is any motion after a fall and automatically alerts family members or caregivers when an individual is unable to make the call himself. Other automatic fall detection alert systems such as the Medical Guardian FallAlert can be worn as a pendant or on the hip while Philips Lifeline AutoAlert is a pendant device.
- Wearables for glucose monitoring have introduced painless, blood-free monitoring for diabetes patients. Fitted with biosensors that can measure blood glucose levels when in contact with skin, these devices make a diabetic’s life easier.
K’Watch Glucose is a watch-like device that only requires the wearer to gently press it to display glucose level. DexCom’s continuous glucose monitoring wearable also works with a skin sensor. The sensor data is sent to a smartphone/display unit every five minutes enabling continuous monitoring in diabetes management. DexCom sensors are also available for pediatric use in patients as young as two years old.
Utilizing the Data from Wearables
Healthcare wearables allow patients to enjoy normal independent life while being monitored. Data collected through sensors, when shared with hospitals or care providers, enables timely intervention in chronically ill or recuperating patients.
Before medical wearables can be adopted by hospitals, there are several criteria such as device accuracy, security of patient data, and regulatory compliance to consider. Primarily when a wearable is introduced, it has to be as accurate as the existing hospital technology so as not to diminish the quality of care. Similarly, wearables need to be approved by medical/drug regulatory agencies such as FDA for clinical adoption.
Integration of wearables with hospital data systems is also a challenge. Wearables should be able to communicate with HIS (hospital information system), electronic medical records, billing systems, and other medical data sources to deliver value.
QBurst helps healthcare organizations and hospitals integrate wearable tech into their systems. Data from patient wearables can be sent over WiFi/BLE networks to the SeeMyMachines IoT platform for analysis and storage. SeeMyMachines can be set up on-premises or on cloud and integrated with the HIS. A single unified view of patients’ medical records allows physicians and hospital staff to make informed decisions on patient care.
As wearables become more widely used for clinical purposes, a new dawn breaks in the healthcare sector. WPM systems with machine learning capabilities can even be used to predict the onset of a disease. Integrating the data from wearables with other patient data sources, hospitals can create a more efficient and streamlined medical practice. Future of healthcare looks promising indeed.