Medicine is fertile ground for scientific and technological innovation. Aside from new disease interventions and surveillance techniques, creative minds have also worked to move healthcare into the patients’ homes, providing around-the-clock status monitoring and a direct line between the patient and doctor.
In this field, arguably no other technology has made the most ground than wearable technologies. With sophisticated sensors and user-friendly interfaces packaged as light, unobtrusive devices, these autonomous gadgets have, in the recent years, been the subject of much interest and development.
Indeed, from the conventional fitness trackers and continuous glucose sensors to the more outlandish Bluetooth pillboxes, wearable medical technologies have made great leaps in many different innovative directions.
So, without any more delays, here are ten of the most promising wearable medical devices.
1. Fitness trackers
Usually similar in form to a wristwatch, fitness trackers measure and monitor activity-related metrics such as number of steps walked, distance ran and calories burned, among others. Because of the growing need for physical activity and of connectivity options (most fitness trackers connect easily with smartphones), fitness trackers have become widely popular in the recent years.
Interesting future directions of the fitness tracker include having a built-in personal activity intelligence index to help set personalized fitness targets created specifically for the wearer.
2. Vitals monitors
Keeping track of vital signs has never been easier than with these wearable biosensors that continuously record clinical information such as heart rate, respiratory rate and falls in real-time – and shares them directly with the healthcare provider.
These wearables appear as small, discreet patches or chest straps that come with their own mobile applications that allow patients to view their own vital signs.
One particular wearable vitals monitor is OMRON’s Smart Elite HEM-7600T. Featuring a convenient and streamlined cuff that can easily be worn on the arm, it accurately measures blood pressure, blocking out unwanted movement that may interfere with readings. The device also comes with a mobile app to let wearers easily record and view their data.
3. Hearing aids
Starting out only as passive sound amplifiers such as ear trumpets, modern hearing aids now employ fully-electronic electroacoustic systems to make sounds more intelligible to the wearer.
Because there are different degrees of hearing loss, most hearing aids require configuration – or fitting, as it is often called – to match the wearer’s lifestyle and physical characteristics, as well as maximize the benefits.
4. Continuous glucose monitors
For diabetics, knowing the level of sugar in the blood is crucial. Previous technologies have allowed monitoring at home, typically with a device that pricks the skin and analyses the blood for an instantaneous measurement of glucose levels.
Continuous glucose monitors take this one step further, taking real-time blood glucose measurements with a sensor placed just under the skin and sending the information wirelessly to a compatible display device or smartphone.
5. Artificial pancreas
An artificial pancreas takes continuous glucose monitoring to a whole new level by automatically delivering appropriate doses of insulin in response to changes in blood sugar concentrations.
Wearable artificial pancreas consists of three small devices that form a closed-loop system with each other: a continuous glucose monitor, an insulin infusion pump and a blood glucose device for calibration.
6. Wearables for chronic pain
Some of the more innovative companies are trying to revolutionize the relief of chronic pain, aiming to reduce doctors’ visits and medications. It is important to note that this particular field is very new and that not all devices have been conclusively proven to be effective.
One particular promising technology, Quell by NeuroMetrix, comes as a sleek band worn on the upper calf and delivers neural pulses that travel to the brain and block pain signals. It also comes with an app that allows wearers to adjust the therapy.
7. Smart pillbox
While not exactly a wearable, smart pillboxes will still be of huge help to those who have trouble remembering when to take what medicine. These pillboxes have alarms and reminders to indicate when it’s time to take a specific pill and how many.
For those who are still having trouble, some of these smart pillboxes come with features that either alert family members of a skipped medicine or allow them to set the alarm for the technologically-challenged owner.
8. Wearables for gynaecological health
Women experience a host of medical difficulties – conditions that the wearable device movement has certainly not overlooked. One device, OvulaRing by VivosensMedical, promises easy pregnancy through a tiny, flexible device that can be inserted into the vagina. It calculates the time of ovulation and the most fertile time for pregnancy based on temperature measurements.
Another device, a smart pregnancy wearable by Bloomlife, provides safe and accurate tracking of contractions through a small sensor that can be attached below the bellybutton and can transmit real-time information to a smartphone app.
9. Sleep quality monitors
People with poor, intermittent and unrestful sleep will find use in various wearable medical devices and applications that improve sleep quality. These come in the form of waistbands that monitor breathing patterns then feed the information to a smartphone app, which then responds by playing soothing music.
Some take it a bit further and monitor specifically for instances of sleep apnoea, which can be life-threatening when left unchecked. The more recent innovations incorporate artificial intelligence technology so the gadgets learn about and adapt to the wearer.
10. Wearables for personal skincare
The wearable movement is not just riding the current popularity of skincare but pushing innovation a bit further by providing personalized skincare. One such technology, the S-Skin, comes with various biodegradable microneedle skin patches, a handheld skin analysis and LED care instrument and a mobile app.
The handheld device can collect information about the user’s skin and environment and display that on the mobile app, which then decides the best combination of skin patch and LED light. Shining the LED light onto the skin patch after application can achieve different skincare effects.
The advancements in wearable medical technologies have already contributed a great deal in improving the delivery of medical services, the monitoring of symptoms and the quality of life of the wearers. However, if this list is any indication, the innovations have no plans of slowing down.