It’s becoming hard not to notice healthcare wearables. Bracelets, pendants and smart watches diligently track people’s every step on their pursuit to better health. But, some remain unsold as to the long-term medical applications of wearables. There are concerns about using data from a device that can be worn incorrectly or taken off altogether when making serious decisions about medical actions. This has led to some believing that the future of wearables are devices and sensors so small that you can’t even see them, or remove them.
The idea of a healthcare device being nearly invisible isn’t new. Hearing aids, one of the original medical wearables, have been making this transition for years as people want smaller, less noticeable, technology while still receiving the latest benefits. As devices have decreased in size to being nearly invisible, the way people interact with them must adapt. Instead of buttons, Starkey Hearing Technologies has developed hearing aids that can be controlled by natural gestures, such as sweeping away one’s hair. These devices are also becoming smarter by being connected to the Internet of Things with location-based functionality that adjusts the device automatically as the wearer walks into a noisy restaurant.
Sensors implanted into the patient remove some of the concerns surrounding correct use. A new heart sensor, no larger than a penny, is able to monitor heart failure. When the patient lies on a special pad, information is transmitted to doctors from the comfort of a person’s own home. Physicians are automatically notified of problems up to four weeks in advance of usual symptoms, keeping patients out of the hospital by making early adjustments to medication.
Proteus Digital Health, a biotech company, is using miniaturized technology to develop tablets that contain edible microchips powered by stomach fluids. These mini-sensors will send data to a patch worn on the patient's stomach that then communicates with other devices via Bluetooth to indicate if they have taken their medication. Once the sensor is ingested, there are other opportunities for the more accurate monitoring, such as vital signs.
Arriving at a world where connected healthcare is integrated with its user’s lives is not without challenges. The more data that is created, the more concerned users are with how their health information is being managed. Doctors need training in how to utilize the new systems and patients must know how to properly use or consume devices to produce accurate results that doctors can trust. Manufacturing technologies must also adapt to be able to build increasingly miniaturized devices.
Advances in precision automation manufacturing enable the production of tiny tech. At the same time, these technologies maintain productivity and cost competitiveness. When creating devices that are essential for the health and well-being of their wearer it is essential that the strictest standards are used.
What are the biggest barriers to getting patients to accept implantable wearables? What other benefits could tiny, sensor-laden devices seamlessly integrated with the human body bring?