Complex Made Simple

The obstacles health wearables face towards making them must-haves for hospitals

This year will see technology innovations such as wearables reside squarely top and center on the agenda of manufacturers, users, and hospitals alike

While only a few million people might have a smartwatch right now, billions of people visit a medical professional every year Research trials need to show that the data wearables gather is sensitive and specific enough to be medically useful Fitness trackers could detect strokes and help in rehabilitating patients, nudging them to change their health behavior

The wearable medical device market across the globe was valued at $13 billion in 2019 and is expected to witness a 28% growth over 2020-2027.

The wearables market in the UAE is expected to grow significantly over the next few years and is expected to hit over $1.1 bn by 2022, from $3.97 million in 2018.

The UAE’s current healthcare expenditure is set to reach a record-high of $25 bn by 2022, comprising about one-quarter of the GCC’s total healthcare expenditure, according to a report by Alpen Capital.

The healthcare industry is seeking to protect health data and sensitive user information, especially in the wake of COVID-19. But this year will see technology innovations such as wearables reside squarely top and center on the agenda of manufacturers, users, and hospitals alike.

Patient-centric tech 

Phil Malem, CEO of Serco Middle East said the healthcare industry has been the lifeblood of economies in 2020, and therefore investing in and creating a sustainable infrastructure in it will run through to 2021. 

“Technology continues to play a key role here not only in terms of innovations in medical care when it comes to diagnosis and treatment but also in terms of managing people, ensuring that the most critical patients are seen first,” Malem said. 

“Technology can play a role in ensuring the patient is given the best possible experience, from the moment of entering to the moment of being discharged.”  

Read: Keep doctors at bay with the latest 8 advances in wearable health devices

Wearables

Wearables can now not only monitor your steps but also aim to promote general good health, even potentially spotting and monitoring medical conditions. 

The market is huge.

While only a few million people might have a smartwatch right now, billions of people visit a medical professional every year. This means that there is a huge potential for the wearable market to grow if enough people are convinced that this technology is not only as valuable as a doctor’s visit, but also cheaper, quicker, and best of all smarter.  

Today, even relatively cheap wearables have sensors to track things like heart rate, temperature, and blood oxygen saturation, while higher-end devices, in the case of the Apple Watch, can even measure the heart’s electrical activity with a single-lead ECG.

But keeping track of patients’ vital signs in hospitals isn’t as simple as wearing a watch. In-patients will need their vital signs monitored and recorded repeatedly throughout the day.   

The idea that clinicians could gather a patients’ vitals, continuously and in real-time from wearables holds a lot of appeal for doctors and patients alike.

Barriers to adoption

There are still a number of barriers to make consumer wearables necessary in hospitals.

1- IT interoperability problems: Hospitals would need electronic health records and other software that could integrate with all the various operating systems that power wearables to be able to gather the data they hold.

2- Workflows around that data: If vital signs suddenly go out of whack, the right professional needs to get that information at the right time, without at the same time generating too many false alarms.

3- A research base also needs to be built up: Research trials need to show that the data wearables gather is sensitive and specific enough to be medically useful.

4- Privacy and data ownership: Is the device manufacturer or the hospital the data controller? 

5- Regulatory approval: For any consumer devices, manufacturers who want their hardware to be used in a medical context need a license from health authorities. 

For device manufacturers, it’s consumers that buy their products, not doctors. That means features have to appeal to consumers, not to their doctors. But that business model could eventually change if wearables continue to improve.

Wearables already have a place in hospitals for patient monitoring, however, they’re not consumer devices. 

Earlier this year, Philips released the BX100, a wearable sensor that can be attached to a person’s chest to monitor their heart rate and activity and a number of other smaller tech companies have produced similar patch-type devices for measuring and recording vital signs.

But monitoring someone before or after their hospital day could open up avenues of useful data. 

Consumer wearables could use sensors to assess gait quality after joint surgery, with the data then passed onto the individual’s medical teams to monitor their progress once they’re back at home.  

Fitness trackers could detect strokes and help in rehabilitating patients, nudging them to change their health behavior and lifestyle.

Read: The UAE is the Arab country with the highest total per capita health expenditure

Don’t forget the health bots

Some major hospitals have deployed specialized robot nurses with remote patient monitoring tech so that doctors can keep an eye on people from afar. Other hospitals, along with grocery stores, restaurants, and major retailers, have adopted robot cleaners that use UV-based tools to destroy bacteria and viruses. 

Robots and remote healing via in-home robotic devices and data trackers, along with in-hospital telemedicine and delivery robots, can work together to minimize person-to-person contact.

The processing and analysis of data is one of the areas where hospitals and healthcare facilities can most effectively automate. 

 From staff having to sit and record patient results on a clipboard or computer, times can change whereby patient-facing medical devices are connected to the cloud so that progress can be automatically and instantly tracked, generated, and recorded, then be used in a facility or network to make informed decisions in real time.