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Smart, Wearable Technology in Healthcare: Changing the Game

As published in the SV February 2024 Newsletter

Wearable technology in healthcare is almost ubiquitous; wristbands, patches, and other unobtrusive devices help to collect a broad spectrum of health and fitness data, which can be provided to medical professionals, insurance companies, and other health providers. These devices include fitness trackers, blood pressure monitors, glucose monitors, biosensors, and more. 

The next generation of smart wearables, including more sophisticated data capture, analytics, reporting, and alerts, is set to transform the healthcare industry. Initially conceptualized as sophisticated performance trackers for athletes and fitness enthusiasts, these wearables have now evolved to include monitoring tools for patients with chronic ailments and injuries.

At the same time, wearable tech has also had a transformative impact on the insurance industry’s approach to risk assessment and customer engagement. In a study it was found that “steps per day can effectively segment mortality risk even after controlling for age, gender, smoking status, and various health indicators”.

In 2020, the market for smart wearable health devices was valued at $13.8 billion. By 2028, it is expected to reach more than $37 billion. 

Wearable Technology and Orthopedics

Orthopedics focuses on the treatment of injuries to the musculoskeletal system. Over the years, doctors and surgeons have relied heavily on medical wearable devices for precise diagnosis, effective treatment and rehabilitation programs, and thorough patient monitoring for trauma prevention. 

Health-monitoring smartwatches continuously track vital signs like heart rate, oxygen levels, and even sleep patterns, providing real-time data for doctors. Patients using smart braces equipped with sensors allow doctors and surgeons to remotely monitor their mobility and customize rehabilitation plans for optimal recovery. Post-surgery, temperature-sensing wearables are used to detect signs of infection or inflammation. Wearable devices like transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) units can provide relief by delivering electrical impulses to affected areas. 

For injury prevention, pressure sensing insoles, and gait-monitoring devices alert individuals to unsafe movements and environments, reducing the risk of traumatic incidents. Additionally, some of these devices can assist in detecting, monitoring and assessing fractures, muscle activity, and joint kinematics like joint angles and forces, ultimately enabling quicker diagnosis and treatment. For diabetics in particular, this is a huge game-changer.

Wearable Technologies Available for Diabetics

Smart Watch. Smart watches have become increasingly popular for diabetics. It offers features such as alerts for low blood sugar readings and alerts to caretakers when needed. Apart from the modern convenience, the health-tracking benefits help monitor activity levels and help regulate the movement of patients with limited mobility.

Continuous Glucose Monitor. Typically worn on the back of the upper arm, this device measures glucose levels in real-time through a sensor inserted under the skin, gathers data, and sends it to a mobile phone app to keep track of fluctuations in blood sugar levels. This device offers a more convenient way of tracking real-time glucose levels without the finger pricking or test strips.

Insulin Pump. An insulin pump is infused through a tube beneath the skin around the abdomen area and delivers fast-acting insulin for up to 3 days at a time. Small enough to be worn discreetly, this pump makes it possible for patients to do away with multiple daily injection regimens.

For diabetics, another major problem is wound care. With more than 1.6 million Diabetic Foot Ulcers (DFU’s) diagnosed each year in the USA (24% of which lead to limb amputation within 6-18 months of initial evaluation), finding effective healing treatments is critical. A leading company in this sector is Foot Defender, with highly effective, innovative products that incorporate smart monitoring and data capture for faster, better healing of DFUs. The Foot Defender+, a smart and stylish boot with built-in sensors to monitor patient activity, helps dramatically improve patient compliance and can reduce the healing time for DFUs by over 66% compared to the current standard of care.

As access to this next-gen technology is made available to more people, doctors and other healthcare professionals are now able to take a more informed, data-driven approach to patient care, from monitoring ongoing health concerns to immediately spotting developing emergencies. And, with the continuing rise of chronic diseases like diabetes and cardiovascular problems, so too does the demand for wearable medical devices continue to increase.

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