Patient Wearables: Who’s Wearing What?

By Christine Peets

Wearable technology.  It started with Google Glass  which has had its problems, and now there is the Apple Watch, which may, or may not, be the next hot seller in this technology niche.  But these appliances are not just about fun, they can be good for you too.  When it comes to this kind of technology, there are some medical applications which are continuing to develop.  It’s time to start paying attention.

In a recently published article, child and adolescent psychiatry resident, Dr. Arshya Vahabzadeh poses the question “Is it time we teach medical students about wearables?”

“As many consumers and commercial organizations look toward using wearables to monitor medical conditions, clinicians may begin to find themselves in the role of a digital data decoder,” writes Dr. Vahabzadeh. “This will be no easy task, as a number of factors will complicate the decoding and force the clinician to become a digital detective. First, medical settings largely rely on using technologies and equipment that have been tested and validated for medical use. In contrast, most wearables are consumer products, and while they produce digital data, this does not mean the data are reliable or valid for medical use.”

While the various FitBit products continue to develop, and become more popular, the data gathered will also become more reliable and may be of more interest to the medical community, not just those concerned with sports and fitness.

So, what’s out there, and who is using it?

A few years ago, Information Week published an article on patient wearables to show what was available, or coming soon. The article states, “wearable wireless medical device sales will reach more than 100 million devices annually. The market for wearable sports and fitness-related monitoring devices is projected to grow as well, reaching 80 million device sales by 2016.  From headsets that measure brainwaves to clothes that incorporate sensing devices, personal health monitoring is the wave of the future.”

This article says that the wearable devices industry could reach $5.8 BILLION (USD) by 2019. So, the future may be here sooner than we think when it comes to wearable technology. The devices are divided into several categories, each tracking different information for therapeutic and diagnostic uses. Diagnostic medical devices could be used for monitoring vital signs, fetal and obstetric monitoring, and neuromonitoring. The therapeutic information could include pain management, glucose/insulin monitoring, and respiration. There are already applications in the fitness and sports industry, as well as for remote patient monitoring and home healthcare. To read more on medical devices market research, click here.

If you don’t want to strap on a device, and be otherwise be “connected” you can literally wear a “Bio Man” shirt with “smart sleeves” that includes a monitoring system to track your vital signs such as heart rate, respiration and skin temperature. AiQ has developed this and other “smart textiles.”

The Metria Wearable Sensor has applications that can be used in preventative medicine. The adhesive-applied sensor can track your sleep and breathing patterns and transmit the data to your smartphone or to a caregiver via a USB or Bluetooth connection. 

The 9Solutions IPCS enables tracking of people and equipment in healthcare settings and occupations. It can track residents in a hospital or an assisted living facility so that the caregivers know when the patient/resident needs help, or may have wandered off. It can also be used for medical and other staff to alert others when they need help.

This may be a real sign of what is possible outside of a lab setting, as prototypes continue to be developed.  As described in the Information Week article, “The Imec‘s wearable electroencephalography (EEG) headset and EKG patch keep tabs on your brain and heart activity, respectively. Your heart rate and 3D-accelerometer data are stored in the system or streamed to a smartphone. Imec also has developed a wireless EEG headset prototype. The system uses impedance monitoring and active electrodes to increase the quality of EEG signal recording, compared to former versions of the system. The data is then transmitted in real time to a receiver located up to 10 miles away from the system.”

While there is always new information coming about wearable technology, it may be too early to start teaching medical students about them. Recent glitches with Google Glass devices and other technology may prove that realistic and practical medical applications may be at least a year off.  Outside of a personal interest in fitness and sports applications there may not be anything new for students to concern themselves with.

That said technology development moves rapidly, and the future may be here faster than we know.

Christine Peets is a freelance writer based in Napanee, Ontario, Canada. She has used some “old tech” medical devices to track heart rate and respiration, but is happily now just using the Endomondo and Open GPS Tracking apps on her phone to monitor her Nordic walking.

2Ascribe Inc. is a medical transcription services agency located in Toronto, Ontario Canada, providing medical transcription services to physicians, clinics and other healthcare providers across Canada and the US.  Having recently introduced WEBscribe, a client interface portal for document management, 2Ascribe continues to implement and develop technology to assist and improve the transcription process for physicians and other healthcare providers.  As a service to our clients and the healthcare industry, 2Ascribe offers articles of interest to physicians and other healthcare professionals, medical transcriptionists and office staff, as well as of general interest.  Additional articles may be found at

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