The resounding success smart gadgets that promote health and wellness for consumers has been surpassed by another important advance: Wearables are steadily expanding into many fields of healthcare. They are essential to the digital revolution that is also changing the field of medicine.
Visitors at MEDICA, the world’s largest medical trade fair in Düsseldorf, Germany (November 13 – 16, 2017) can attend special sessions about wearables at the Connected Healthcare Forum in Hall 15. The Wearable Technologies Show (also in Hall 15) will offer an overview of innovations, including prototypes and research projects.
“Wearables represent one of the major enablers of digitization in healthcare,” says Christian Stammel, founder and CEO of WT Wearable Technologies Group. “We define all electronic components that are worn on the body, close to the body or in the body as wearables.” In the health sector, wearables go beyond fitness trackers strapped to the wrist—they include pacemakers, hearing aids and smart implants.
This technology is already having an impact on new treatment methods and the diagnosis, monitoring and treatment across all aspects of medical care—from prevention and inpatient care to outpatient care to rehabilitation. Applications range from intelligent bandages for measuring blood-sugar levels through patches that deliver the individually required quantity of drugs (developed by Abbott) to intelligent pills that monitor medication administration. For example, a sensor in the form of a pill by Proteus Medical helps physicians track when patients have taken their medication. The mylife OmniPod insulin management system also represents a new type of insulin pump therapy. The eponymous pod is applied directly to the skin without any cumbersome tubes between the pod and the personal diabetes manager to provide more freedom to patients.
The session taking place at the MEDICA Connected Healthcare Forum on November 14 from 2:00 to 5:00 p.m. will focus on wearables to help with chronic illnesses and support people facing special mobility challenges.
At the Wearable Technologies Show, Bioservo will display its training glove for stroke patients. The glove uses motion sensors and robotic support to amplify the wearer’s movement impulses. Wearing the glove regularly will not only improve the perception of touch stimuli but also voluntary motility (i.e., grasping). It is not far from robotic gloves to exoskeletons that promise even greater benefits in mobilization therapy. FreeBionics, for instance, is hoping that its Free Walk system will help restore mobility to people suffering from temporary or chronic restrictions to movement.
Monitoring vital data is crucial in helping patients with chronic and acute illnesses. Wearables can deliver optimum solutions for monitoring many types of complaints at home or in clinics. Start-up company Biovotion has created an arm cuff that continuously captures medically relevant data that is available to physicians through a cloud solution. Precisely tailored wearables target diseases that include Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, asthma, cardiovascular diseases and diabetes; new options for monitoring newborns and pregnant women are also coming out.
“More than 150 million wearable products were sold across the world last year,” says Stammel. And the market is expected to double by 2020. Initial forecasts indicate that 400 million wearables will be sold in 2020, 50% of which are medical wearables. Smart patches will probably make up a high share of the market.
Gerd Bueschel, OEM Manager at Covestro, will discuss “Soft Embedding of Electronics and Skin Friendly Fixation of Materials & Technology” at the MEDICA Connected Healthcare Forum on November 14.
Improvements to miniaturization will deliver solutions for medical monitoring and reduce stigmas associated with treatment. “Medical wearables are being increasingly developed in the form of smart patches and will so enable patients to use long-term monitoring products and even receive medication in such a way that is almost invisible to others,” says Stammel.
The Challenge for Licensing Authorities
Although wearables present promising possibilities for users and suppliers, they also present challenges that include medical licensing, interfacing aspects, data interoperability and data protection. “Medical licensing authorities across the world will need to respond to increasing demands and are indeed gradually adapting to their new tasks,” Stammel says. Digitization also presents a overall challenge for licensing authorities.
Wearables for Inpatient Use
For inpatient care, applications range from monitoring bedsores and patch sensors to tracking vital data. However, wearables would initially play a more subordinate role from the point of view of a clinic, as existing medical infrastructure could slow down the introduction of wearables.
Wearables for Outpatient Care
It would be particularly advantageous for physician practices to start thinking about the topic of improving patient assessments with the help of wearables. “The first health-monitoring devices that have also been officially certified – e.g. ‘Philips Health Watch’ – have simplified the use of wearables as reliable indicators,” says Stammel. The device captures vital data such as heart frequencies and will also track movement, sitting and sleeping behavior—all without the need for an additional chest strap. The data are stored in the cloud in compliance with data-protection guidelines and can be shared with physicians and medical personnel. Stammel thinks that the use of wearables will become a performance feature for high-quality medical practices in the near future. “Physicians should be familiar with the products that are already available today for diabetes patients and be aware of the benefits to medical treatment and the patients’ quality of life so that they can prescribe such products,” he says.
Start-ups Facilitate Digitization in Healthcare
Creative start-ups are playing an important role in the digitization of healthcare, particularly in the field of wearables. A special platform of about 40 of these companies will be part of the new MEDICA Start-Up Park in Hall 15 to connect potential business, investors and sales partners from around the world.
Working Together for Success
With so many innovations that have the potential to advance the digitization of healthcare for the benefit of patients, proper information for all parties involved is essential to ensuring that patients benefit. Patients are already embracing the digital revolution: A recent survey by Deloitte and Bitkom revealed that more than 90% of respondents are sharing their health data from their mobile devices with their physicians. And how are physicians responding? “It is up to the medical profession to openly explore the new opportunities that are being opened up by digital innovations and to indicate their interest to the established suppliers of medical infrastructure solutions for practices and clinics,” says Stammel.
The full day program of the international MEDICA Connected Healthcare Forum will provide insights into the range of digital developments that are destined to fundamentally change the world of healthcare. Here, wearables will not only become an important aspect of the Internet of Things but also of medical care.
For more information about the forum, please visit: http://www.medica-tradefair.com/mchf2.