In the past two decades, wearable technology has become increasingly popular, with fitness trackers and smartwatches being the first products that come to mind when we think about this market. The 2022 Connectivity and Mobile Trends study by Deloitte reveals that wearables are gaining traction among US consumers who seek to improve their health and wellness. The study found that 60% of US households own a wearable device, such as a smartwatch or fitness tracker.
While these devices have undoubtedly revolutionised the health and wellness industry, their potential uses extend beyond monitoring physical activity. In the healthcare industry, wearable technology products like blood pressure monitors, biosensors, glucose meters, and ECG monitors have been utilised for decades, providing monitoring capabilities for conditions such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
A recent M3 Pulse survey emphasises the increased popularity of wearable technology in the healthcare sector. The survey includes the opinions of 4,087 healthcare professionals in the US and Europe who were asked the question “How important do you think wearable technology is to support healthcare provision in your country?” The results reveal that the majority (80%) of respondents consider wearable technology to be either very or somewhat important in supporting healthcare provision in their countries. On the other hand, only 4% indicated wearables have little importance, and 3% believe that they are not important at all.
While wearable technology does have the potential to improve and continue to revolutionise the healthcare sector even further in the coming years, there are also concerns when it comes to these advancements.
The Benefits of Wearable Devices
Wearable technology is user-friendly, small, portable, and easily accessible which makes it easy for people to track their health metrics, no matter where they are. Having instant access to information and health data can influence users to adjust their lifestyle choices, take preventative measures to limit health risks, and even optimise sleep, workouts, diet, and daily habits. Additionally, wearable technology is an efficient way to collect, process, and analyse personal health data, which can assist in remote care, potentially giving people quicker and better access to healthcare.
Being widely available, fitness trackers and smartwatches provide users with constant access to health metrics like steps, heart rate, and calories burned allowing users to understand their physical activity levels and modify or maintain them based on their health goals. An article written in the Journal of Healthcare Engineering mentions the “Expected growth for wearable technology for healthcare-related tasks will likely move from “nice to have” devices to necessary devices for remote patient monitoring and detection of irregularities with the human body.”
Some wearable technology has ECG monitors built into it and can detect abnormal heart rhythms which can be an indicator of cardiovascular disease. Having access to this data and being able to monitor it helps healthcare professionals detect health issues earlier and reduces the need for hospitalisation. Having access to remote care via wearable technology also allows healthcare professionals to monitor their patients from a distance. This is especially beneficial when it comes to providing care for patients with chronic conditions who need ongoing care and people in rural areas with limited access to healthcare facilities.
The Cons to Consider with Wearable Devices
One of the most questioned aspects of wearable technology is their accuracy. In order to achieve data accuracy, aspects like sensors, processors, algorithms, and connectivity have to be consistently reliable. If inaccurate data is collected this can lead to misguided medical decisions. For instance, fitness trackers overestimating calories burned may lead to users consuming more food than they should, resulting in weight gain. Similarly, inaccurate ECG monitors could lead to unnecessary and costly tests and procedures.
For something so small these devices have the ability to collect a lot of personal information about our health and habits, so it's only natural to wonder who has access to that data and what they're doing with it. Data privacy is a growing concern in the digital age, and wearable technology is no exception. Collecting significant amounts of personal information about users’ health, daily life, and personal preferences, these devices raise concerns about privacy and data security. Consumers often find themselves concerned about who can access their data, share it, and what it is being used for and by whom.
It's easy to get carried away with self-diagnosis or misinterpreting the data based on what we see on our devices. However with the majority of users having a lack of medical knowledge this can result in dangerous outcomes. If users rely too heavily on data provided by their wearable technology rather than consulting a healthcare professional it could result in unnecessary anxiety or misguided self-medication.
Technical limitations such as battery life, charging mechanisms, and technical malfunctions can disturb users and cause issues when processing and analysing data for healthcare purposes.
While the popularity of these technologies including fitness trackers, continues to increase, wearable technologies can still be expensive. Additionally, implementing new technology infrastructures and systems to support such technologies and device compatibility is likely to be costly for hospitals and clinics.
Is wearable technology here to stay?
There is no doubt that wearable technology has become increasingly popular in the healthcare sector, with the potential to revolutionise patient care. With that in mind it’s evident wearable technology is certainly here to stay. With the increasing popularity of fitness trackers, smartwatches, and other wearables, there is no doubt that these devices have already revolutionised the health and wellness industry. They provide users with easy access to personal health data and enable healthcare professionals to monitor patients remotely, potentially reducing the need for hospitalisation.
However, whilst the majority of healthcare professionals recognise the importance of wearable technology in supporting healthcare provision, there are still concerns when it comes to their accuracy, data privacy, potential misinterpretation of data, technical limitations, and costs. It is important to address these concerns while continuing to develop new applications for wearable technology in healthcare. With advancements in technology and new devices being developed regularly, wearable technology is likely here to stay and will play an increasingly important role in supporting patient care in the future.
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