Did you know that wearable devices can predict an illness or identify atrial fibrillation before you have any symptoms? These devices have come a long way since the first-generation step counters. Aside from potentially saving your life and motivating you to conquer new fitness challenges, the wearable device market was valued at $61.3 billion in 2022 and is predicted to increase at a compound growth rate of 14.6 percent between 2023 and 2030. It’s big business, so manufacturers will continue innovating and adding technology.
Whether you are an athlete or just want to track your health metrics, there are a wide variety of wearable healthcare devices to choose from. Wearable devices can track your activities, heart rate, sleep, stress level, oxygen saturation, body temperature, calorie intake, body composition, and water intake. They can also track trends, providing valuable insight into your health and wellness.
Wearable device technology helps consumers be proactive in managing their health and bringing concerning data trends to their doctor’s attention earlier. Most wearable device manufacturers also have social networks that users can join to motivate each other to improve their health and fitness.
Obesity, type 2 diabetes, and high blood pressure are major health concerns for U.S. adults. Over 40% of U.S. adults now meet the qualifications for obesity, a chronic medical condition associated with about 200 other comorbid conditions. We know that diet and exercise are the two most important factors that can increase weight loss and improve overall health, but maintaining a healthy diet and engaging in regular exercise is hard.
Wearable fitness trackers may help. According to a study published in JAMA Network Open, wearing fitness trackers, combined with other interventions like consultations with healthcare providers, can lead to increased physical activity, which can profoundly impact your health.1,2 Fitness trackers and the social networks associated with them can help provide motivation and hold you accountable as you set fitness goals for yourself.
Smart Health Watches
In the past, the fitness tracker and smartwatch categories were clearly defined. Fitness trackers focused on health and fitness, and smart watches extended your cell phone functionality. As technology has advanced, fitness trackers provide much of the same data as smartwatches, especially for monitoring your health.
Smartwatches track your fitness, sleep, stress, and sleep, just like fitness trackers, but many also offer EKG, heart rate, heart rate variability, stress, and body temperature tracking. You can also use your smartwatch to listen to music, answer texts, take phone calls, and watch workout videos and guided exercise programs. Smartwatches make it easy to fit in a 10-minute impromptu workout.
Smartwatches provide data that your doctor can use to gain more insight into your health habits and how they may affect your risk of chronic disease.
For example, atrial fibrillation is an irregular heart rhythm in the upper chambers of your heart. It is the most common heart rhythm disorder, affecting about 1% of the population. In some cases, atrial fibrillation does not cause symptoms, and the first sign of its presence is having a stroke. A smartwatch can help identify this abnormal rhythm so your doctor can evaluate your heart rhythm and suggest treatment options.
In the next few years, more sensors on smartwatches will be standard, as wearable technology is tested for its accuracy and consistency in monitoring and tracking patient health data.
Biosensors are wearable devices that integrate sensors into or on the human body using tattoos, gloves, clothing, or implants. These wearable sensors collect data and display information via a phone app. The information can be transmitted to your doctor for monitoring and feedback.3
Biosensors can monitor motion states, biophysical states, or biochemical parameters. Motion sensors can monitor gait and send an alarm if the wearer falls. They can also detect seizures and tremors. Biophysical sensors track blood pressure, heart rate, and temperature. Biochemical sensors track biological fluids.3
Continuous glucose monitors (CGMs) are an example of a biochemical sensor. These devices were intended for people with diabetes to provide a less invasive way to continuously monitor their blood sugar. Now anyone can monitor their blood sugar using CGMs. Saliva, tears, breath, and sweat-based biosensors are expected to be available soon in this booming market.
Biosensors are expected to change the way healthcare is delivered. The two-way feedback these devices offer will augment the care provided during a remote doctor’s visit, providing consumers with the safest and most convenient healthcare option.
Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in the United States, with coronary heart disease accounting for almost half of these deaths. Unfortunately, most heart attacks occur without warning. Wearable electrocardiogram monitors (ECG) can help patients monitor their heart rhythms from home. This can provide reassurance that any abnormalities may be detected earlier and provide a means of transmitting data to their heart doctor for evaluation.
Smartwatches and ECG monitors, telemedicine, and public awareness and lifestyle changes to reduce risk factors are expected to reduce heart disease in the future. Telemedicine provides a safe and convenient way to prevent heart attacks by providing lifestyle counseling, tracking medication adherence, refilling prescriptions, monitoring heart rhythm trends, and reducing comorbid diseases.
Blood Pressure Monitors
High blood pressure is often called the “silent killer” because it has no symptoms. People of all ages and body shapes and sizes can have high blood pressure. High blood pressure that is not treated is a risk factor for cardiovascular diseases, such as heart attacks and strokes.
Smartwatches and home blood pressure monitors can track blood pressure and provide alerts if your blood pressure is too high. Blood pressure fluctuates throughout the day, and it is classically much different in the doctor’s office than at home.
While blood pressure cuffs for home use have been around for a while, they are very difficult for most people to use correctly. It is hard to get the cuff in the right place and position your body correctly to get an accurate measurement. They are also bulky and uncomfortable.
Wearable blood pressure monitors make it easy to take blood pressure measurements anytime, even outside your home. They are simpler to use and easier to put the monitor level with your heart, a technique that usually gives the most accurate reading. Unfortunately, wearable blood pressure devices are new and do not yet have large-scale scientific studies to support their accuracy.
Use your wearable blood pressure monitor to track trends and calibrate it periodically with your blood pressure readings from doctor’s visits or medical-grade blood pressure monitoring devices in stores and pharmacies.
What Are the Benefits of Wearable Healthcare Devices?
Wearable devices are expected to revolutionize healthcare. Remote patient monitoring is more economical and convenient than monitoring in a hospital setting. In 2019, 88% of healthcare providers surveyed had invested in or evaluated investing in remote patient monitoring technologies. Most healthcare providers surveyed encouraged their patients to monitor their health proactively. While remote patient monitoring is not an option in all cases and still faces some deployment challenges, it is likely to become more commonplace over the next decade.
More Insight for Doctors
Wearable healthcare devices provide telehealth doctors with data that helps with medical decision-making. Patients bring their data and information about their symptoms and medical history. Doctors provide their knowledge, experience, and insight. Together, they engage in a shared decision-making process that empowers patients to take charge of their medical care. The telehealth environment makes it easier for patients to access specialists and for doctors to share information. Interprofessional collaboration improves mental and physical health outcomes.
Remote doctors have some disadvantages. They don’t have access to the patient in the same physical space as they are. They can’t take blood pressure, pulse, temperature, and body weight measurements and cannot physically examine the patient. In cases where a physical exam would impact medical decision-making, an in-person appointment is the only option. For example, if your doctor suspects appendicitis, you will need an abdominal exam and further testing.
Wearable devices overcome the other obstacle when consulting with a web doctor. They provide the measurements an online doctor needs to rule out or support an online diagnosis. If, after making a diagnosis, your online doctor believes you need a prescription medication to treat your condition, it is easy to get a prescription online.
Wearable devices provide online doctors with data they can use to make a diagnosis. Is it time for you to move your doctor’s appointment online?
Better Patient Adherence
Feedback from wearable devices can be motivating. Having data on hand and tracking it helps healthcare providers monitor whether patients are adhering to their treatment recommendations. This transparency will lead to better long-term health outcomes.
- Hodkinson A, Kontopantelis E, Adeniji C, et al. Interventions Using Wearable Physical Activity Trackers Among Adults With Cardiometabolic Conditions: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis. JAMA Netw Open. 2021;4(7):e2116382. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2021.16382
- Cheatham SW, Stull KR, Fantigrassi M, Motel I. The efficacy of wearable activity tracking technology as part of a weight loss program: a systematic review. J Sports Med Phys Fitness. 2018 Apr;58(4):534-548. doi: 10.23736/S0022-4707.17.07437-0. Epub 2017 May 9. PMID: 28488834.
- Sharma A, Badea M, Tiwari S, Marty JL. Wearable Biosensors: An Alternative and Practical Approach in Healthcare and Disease Monitoring. Molecules. 2021 Feb 1;26(3):748. doi: 10.3390/molecules26030748. PMID: 33535493; PMCID: PMC7867046.