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Healthcare wearables make inroads

Healthcare wearables make inroads

Scott Robinson

by Scott Robinson

Healthcare wearables, particularly smartwatches for healthcare, have become innovative and proactive ways for medical practitioners to monitor patient health—in real time.

Easily dismissible as a toy, the smartwatch turns out to be a potential game-changer in human-cloud, human-AI interaction – with the power to change both the way we work and the way we live.

I have several friends who are early adopters: the first to try, the first to buy.

One such friend unveiled the Apple Watch, a smartwatch, to me a couple of years ago. I remember thinking, What’s the big deal? The iPad is a big iPhone and this is just a tiny iPhone.”

But, then I realized how wrong I was.

It’s 10:24 a.m., and I just checked my watch. I have a meeting in a few minutes, and the Washington Post just sent an article news alert. I can also see I missed a phone call from my daughter. And the activity app alerts me when it’s time to stretch my legs if I’ve been sitting too long.

Wearables like a smartwatch aren’t just easy and convenient. For me, a smartwarch is rapidly becoming can't-live-without indispensable.

Here’s why smart devices and wearables are rapidly becoming invaluable in enterprise settings, particularly why for a smartwatch for healthcare is more than a novel use case. Healthcare wearables ultimately give us the opportunity to steer our own health in ways we haven’t previously.

Healthcare wearables provide real-time information

Healthcare wearable offer new insight through real-time analytics on key vital statistics such as heart rate, speed, calories burned and so on. And the medical community can use smart watches for healthcare to offer better healthcare to patients.

Consider how healthcare wearables like a smartwatch can monitor at-risk pregnant mothers’ key health indicators.

Managing preterm birth risk is complex and meticulous. Many factors—from maternal metabolism to disease to adverse behaviors to social determinants—can increase the risk of premature delivery. Medical practitioners tasked with helping mothers-to-be must track a number of variables, and they can change, depending on the risk condition. Moreover, a mother’s risk can increase as the pregnancy progresses, making it important to monitor the pregnancy closely.

The smartwatch’s role in this process can assist the care manager in several ways, depending on the risk conditions. It can report on physical activity, when it’s important that a mother under care either maintain a certain fitness level – or, conversely, stay off her feet as much as possible. It can provide daily reminders to follow important diet and medication regimens, and provide warnings when an expecting mother doesn’t follow recommendations (alerting the care manager in the process).

Smartwatches: The king of all healthcare wearables?

A smartwatch for healthcare is better than a phone app in this regard. A phone is easy to ignore, and such notifications and warnings are easy to miss. Warnings are more insistent when a smartwatch does the prompting, the mother receives a gentle buzz on her wrist.

But perhaps the most important job is to serve as a proxy for a care manager, who provides guidance and knowledge to patients. Typically, contact between a mother under care and her manager happens by phone, and the manager must ask tough questions that are highly pertinent to managing risk: Have you had any alcohol this week? Have you smoked? Have you had unsafe sex?

Research demonstrates that patients often obfuscate or lie outright when asked such questions, as they don’t want to feel judged or shamed by their answers. However, this effect tends to be greatly diminished when a patient communicates lifestyle details with a bot.

Put another way, if a smartwatch poses the question rather than a person over the phone, a care manager may get more accurate data.

Some smartwatch apps now track blood glucose levels and monitor diet to ensure conformity with blood sugar targets. Smartwatches with heart rate sensors can not only track heart rates but also report them in moments of distress.

Some apps for healthcare wearables to remind you to take pills, pick up prescriptions, drink water and take a walk, as needed. There are even apps for the elderly that can sense a fall or wandering behavior.

In another novel application of the smartwatch use for healthcare, a high-school student in the Czech Republic designed a health monitoring system using a smartwatch, various sensors. Marek Novak devised the system after his grandfather suffered a stroke and lost use of his arms and legs. Novak’s design is one of the first to combine multiple low-power sensors to measure health indicators, such as heart rate, blood oxygen level, temperature, degree of mobility and location. These indicators may alert patients and caregivers of an imminent problem.

Applications today. It should be readily apparent that a smartwatch, as a personal device connected to the Internet, makes an obvious endpoint for workflows of all kinds – and workflow itself, beyond smartwatches, is getting smarter and smarter across all platforms.

Applications tomorrow. Smartwatches not only help us try to prevent from getting sick; they may help us mend faster. Many, if not most, recovery protocols for severe maladies involve complex workflows, and implementing those workflows via smartwatch not only keeps us more faithful to our get-well task list, it keeps our caretakers informed of what we have and haven't done.

And a wide range of life-altering conditions, from preterm birth to attention deficit disorder, can be positively affected by the smartwatch's potential role in connecting the individual at risk to their care manager.

Human endpoints. Our behaviors in the world will change the world. The Internet of Things (IoT) has created a completely new digital ecosystem, in which industries across the globe are increasingly driven by customer expectations that IoT is capturing and enabling industry adaptation. Put simply, healthcare wearables make us human endpoints in an ocean of digital activity, movers and drivers in shaping the ecosphere. All the data we create by our actions in the world will make its way back into the increasingly adaptive industrial world, driving economies and altering the flow of goods and services at far greater rates.

And in the domain of personal health, where we can feel confused, overwhelmed and even helpless, healthcare wearables give us back control and help us steer our own health course.

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Scott Robinson

Scott Robinson is director of business intelligence at Lucina Health in Louisville, Ky.