*The translation of this article in French and Portuguese has been made through machine translation and has not been edited yet. we apologise for any inaccuracies.
Wearable ECG monitors, biosensors, and wearable blood pressure monitors, along with health watches and fitness trackers, are becoming increasingly integrated into everyday life. How important do you think wearable healthcare technology is to support patient care? Find out what over 4,000 physicians and other healthcare professionals in Europe and the US think in the results of this month’s M3 Pulse.
In December 2022, we asked M3 panel members to predict the healthcare trends they thought would have the most impact in 2023 and beyond. Healthcare professionals universally agreed that wearable devices would be among the top three most impactful trends in healthcare.
In this M3 Pulse, we wanted to dig deeper to understand exactly how important wearable technology in healthcare is perceived to be by healthcare professionals around the world. We discovered that only 3% think that wearables have no importance in healthcare. You can read the complete M3 Pulse results below. You may also find the original M3 Pulse results on Top Healthcare Trends in 2023 interesting too.
What is Wearable Technology?
Wearable technology is defined as any kind of electronic device with built-in sensors which monitor and track different body movements and physiological parameters. Everything from sophisticated AI hearing aids to disposable sensor skin patches are considered wearable technology, also called `wearables´. Wearables are designed to be worn on the user’s body, either directly on the skin or attached to clothing. There are many types of wearables, but most of them function by incorporating complex algorithms, microprocessors, and batteries, with connectivity to the internet so the collected data can be synced and analysed alongside other electronics and applications.
The global wearable technology market was valued at $61.30 billion in 2022 and is expected to increase at a compound annual growth rate of 14.6% from 2023 to 2030*. Growing adoption of fitness trackers, smart watches, electrocardiogram (ECG) monitors, blood pressure monitors, and biosensors among consumers drives commercial growth, motivating manufacturers to develop wearables further, making them more sophisticated and improving accuracy. The healthcare sector is predicted to encounter its second-fastest growth rate between 2022 and 2030 due to the increased use of wearable devices across healthcare.
How is Wearable Technology Used in Healthcare?
Wearable technology in the context of healthcare refers to any computing device that patients attach to their bodies or clothing to measure, process, or analyse different health indicators to collect health data. The data can then be shared with doctors and healthcare providers, enabling them to detect health issues earlier, make detailed diagnoses, and provide personalised health recommendations and treatment plans.
Over the last ten years, there has been an explosion in the number of new medical wearables available directly to consumers. Many researchers believe that wearables hold enormous potential in their contribution to improving global public health.
Some examples of wearable medical devices in use today include:
1. Wearable ECG Monitors
An electrocardiogram (ECG) monitor, is a device that records the electrical activity of the heart. This type of wearable is usually worn as a watch or adhesive patch attached to a monitor and can alert the wearer to irregularities with their heart rhythm. This data may then help doctors diagnose heart-related or cardiac conditions such as arrhythmia, atrial fibrillation, and heart failure, as they have access to historical data points, rather than a snapshot.
2. Continuous Glucose Meters (CGM)
A continuous glucose monitor (CGM) is a small device that helps manage blood sugar levels by providing real-time data. Wearable CGMs consist of a sensor that is usually placed on the abdomen or upper arm, and a transmitter that sends data to a smartphone, watch, or any other type of display device. The CGM system gives real-time glucose readings, trends, and alerts which can help people living with diabetes, or their carers, manage their blood sugar levels and support clinical decision making.
3. Wearable Blood Pressure Monitors
Wearable blood pressure monitors detect blood pressure via a wristband or watch and are a convenient way to collect data compared to the more traditional blood pressure cuffs. This kind of blood pressure monitoring allows individuals to understand how their lifestyle influences their health on daily basis, and take measurements in their own homes, where they are more comfortable and less likely to exhibit stress-related responses. Data collected this way may enable users and their healthcare providers to make more data-driven decisions about their diet and activities, lowering their risk of serious illness.
4. Wearable Biosensors
Over the past decade, developments in wearables have been largely focused on driving innovation in electrochemical and optical biosensors with non-invasive monitoring of biomarkers, bacteria, and hormones. One example is a self-adhesive patch that enables patients to move normally while collecting data on their mobility, heart rate, respiration rate, and temperature. Flexible and stretchable biosensors can make health data analysis more feasible, accurate, and comfortable. These types of wearable devices are being developed faster and applied more widely, making them increasingly affordable and accessible for the general public, which may support self-health monitoring and preventive medicine.
5. Wearable Health Watches / Fitness Trackers
One of the most significant trends in wearable health technology has been the increasing prevalence of health watches and fitness trackers. Wearable health watches are designed to track a wide variety of indicators, from heart rate and blood pressure to steps taken, calories burned, and sleep quality. Integration with various smartphone apps can send users alerts, reminders, and advice on their health, fitness, and medication adherence, promoting consistency in adopting, and maintaining healthy lifestyle choices.
By linking wearable data to existing healthcare records, both researchers and healthcare providers could have access to a comprehensive analysis of an individual’s health metrics as well as use the aggregated data to gain a better understanding of health and disease norms across the general population.
However, this is only possible if users agree to share their wearable data and allow access to third parties. According to the Analysis Health Information National Trends Survey Data 2019, 81.86 % of US adults said that they were happy to share wearable data with their healthcare providers, versus only 69.51% who were willing to share the data with family and friends.
M3 Pulse Results: 4,000 Healthcare Professionals Share Their Opinions About Wearables in Healthcare
In February’s M3 Pulse, we asked thousands of M3 panel members, “How important do you think wearable technology is to support healthcare provision in your country?”
4,087 physicians and other healthcare professionals in the US and Europe took part in the survey.
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As many as 80% of the respondents think that wearable technology in healthcare is either very important, or somewhat important, in supporting healthcare provision in their countries. 10% are neutral on the subject whilst 4% think that wearables have little importance. Only 3% of the participants believe healthcare wearables are not important at all.
Pros and Cons of Wearables Technology in Healthcare
Wearable technology like ECG Monitors, health watches, fitness trackers, and blood pressure monitors, can help healthcare professionals with the early detection of health events and diseases. Consistent use also encourages behaviours that can help reduce hospital visits and re-admissions due to poorly managed personal health.
Whilst wearable technology has the potential to improve public health, there are concerns about data security, accuracy, and costs.
Here are some of the pros and cons of wearables technology in healthcare:
Wearables are small, portable, and user-friendly, making it easier for people to continuously track health metrics themselves, wherever they are.
2. Health and Wellness
Increased access to data may motivate users to be more consistent in maintaining their health, supported by reminders, notifications, guidelines, and information to help them reach their health goals.
3. Prevent Illness
Wearables can provide instant access to information and health data which may influence users to adjust their habits and lifestyle choices or take preventative measures to limit disease risks.
4. Personal Safety
Actively using real-time health data makes it possible to optimise sleep, workouts, diet, and daily habits and can also improve safety with the help of alerts detecting falls and data that falls outside normal ranges.
5. Early Diagnosis and Personalised Care
Longitudinal health data can provide healthcare providers with important information to support diagnoses and create treatment plans.
6. Remote Health Monitoring
Wearable data is an efficient and affordable way to collect, process, and analyse personal health data which can assist in remote care, potentially giving people quicker and better access to healthcare.
1. Data Accuracy
One of the most discussed topics around wearables is the accuracy of the data provided by wearable technology. Many aspects of wearable technology need to be consistently reliable for the data to be accurate, such as sensors, processors, algorithms, and connectivity, among others. Although tested rigorously before being launched, data accuracy may vary dependent on the wearable device manufacturer and product. Given the increased usage of wearables, measurement accuracy and precision in these devices are particularly important given their potential importance to the healthcare sector in the near future.
2. Privacy and Data Security
Wearable devices collect large amounts of valuable and sensitive information about users’ health, daily life, and personal preferences. Consumers are often concerned about who can access their data, share it, and what the data should be used for, and by whom. Safekeeping of their data is particularly important, especially with devices accessing social media platforms that are particularly vulnerable to cyber-attacks.
3. Self-diagnosis and Health Anxiety
One of the major concerns around health wearables commonly raised by healthcare professionals, and also mentioned in this month’s M3 Pulse results, is people’s tendency to self-diagnose and misinterpret health data due to a lack of medical knowledge. This may cause unnecessary anxiety or lead to misguided self-medication. The overriding concern is that consumers may rely on data provided by wearables instead of consulting with a healthcare professional.
4. Technical issues
Wearables are also subject to technical limitations such as battery life, charging mechanisms, and technical malfunctions which may disturb users and cause serious issues when processing and analysing data for healthcare purposes.
Although the popularity of wearable technologies, including fitness trackers, continues to increase and the technology becomes cheaper, wearables that are currently available on the market can be expensive. While the price of wearable health devices reduces each year, it may still be costly for hospitals and clinics to implement new technology infrastructures and systems to support wearables and device compatibility.
Are you familiar with any other applications of wearable technology like ECG Monitors, health watches, fitness trackers, and blood pressure monitors, that may be important in supporting patient care in the coming years? Leave a comment below and follow us on LinkedIn or Instagram for regular updates.
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