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Wearable Healthcare Tech and Digital Public Health

May 21, 2020
Wearable Technology in Healthcare

Wearable healthcare technology, which encompasses everything from smart watches to biometric hospital gowns, is one of the key components of the new digital public health system. These devices can provide healthcare professionals and first responders access to real time data as an integral part of their decision support systems. They can also enable remote monitoring at scale.

This tech can materially improve emergency and healthcare outcomes by cutting response times and improving awareness through big data. Wearable healthcare technology for digital public health can be divided into three distinct categories: disease prevention, management, and activity and compliance monitoring.

Wearables and disease prevention

One of the key benefits of wearable health tech is portability and convenience. These devices can be worn by patients with known risk factors for diseases to monitor symptoms and issue alerts when necessary.

The most common example is obesity and exercise. Most smart watches feature ballisto and electrocardiogram sensors to measure activity, and issue alerts based on the activity. For example, if heart rates stay at high rates for extended periods of time, Apple watches will offer to dial 911. 

Alternatively, during long periods of inactivity, most smart watches will issue an alert to stretch, go for a walk, or even suggest an exercise. A study in Korea sought to combat childhood obesity through a mobile platform combined with a wearable device, similar to many popular fitness tracking apps. The results found positive changes in behavior, diet, and ultimately better health outcomes.

Another example is fall detection and prevention. With the number of people aged 60 and older outnumbering the number of children under five worldwide, slips and falls are considered a public health issue, considering one in four elderly Americans falls every year. Wearable devices like panic buttons or watches with fall detection can minimize alerts and cut response times for elderly falls. These devices can also analyze gait patterns for adjustment through physical therapy.

Disease management

The immediate educational benefits of wearable devices, paired with features that incentivize and gamify preventative behavior, can help address public health crises as they occur. During COVID-19, for example, wearables are being designed to ensure proper social distancing in an effort to help reopen cities nationwide. 

In addition, companies like Validic are building platforms to monitor COVID-specific symptoms remotely to protect frontline workers from exposure while maximizing care in hospitals that are short staffed. These wearables also enable patients to go home sooner, because their symptoms can be monitored and managed remotely when intensive care is no longer needed. 

Mobile health technology, otherwise known as mHealth, works through devices like wearables to help improve patient interventions. By granting doctors and healthcare researchers access to massive amounts of data, analysis can be done on the fly to determine how to best respond to diseases, which has been especially helpful in combating COVID-19.

Activity and compliance monitoring

Another way that wearables can help safeguard public health is by enabling remote monitoring for physicians. Remote monitoring can help track symptoms at scale, reducing the need for visits while increasing touchpoints between healthcare providers and patients.

In addition, these devices can help enforce compliance to treatment protocols. Biosensors like the Philips IntelliVue can trigger automated alarms based on certain conditions, so that physicians can notify their patients.

Wearable devices can also be used, similarly to the prevention aspect, to remind patients to move when they’ve been idle too long, or alternatively to track their workouts for rehabilitation. In addition, wearables can help detect heat stroke, exhaustion, or overexertion by processing a variety of biochemical signals on the fly, alerting both the patient and potentially their physicians, trainers, or family members to the warning signs. This has applications to sports medicine, physical therapy, and rehabilitation as well.

Wearable tech and digital public health

Wearables are providing healthcare workers and first responders the ability to react faster and smarter to rapidly changing conditions, while enabling them to provide better care at scale. For public health, this means providing more care to more people, and enabling faster responses to potential crises. 

Wearable healthcare tech also enables real time data analysis, with better quality data. Wearables are easy to wear, distribute, and produce, relative to hospital or clinic based monitoring, and can collect data even when physicians don’t have their eyes on their screens.

Real time data collection is key to addressing public health crises, whether it’s something systemic like obesity, or a once in a lifetime pandemic like COVID-19. It can help researchers and policy makers devise better plans and concepts to address them, while outfitting doctors with the tools they need to adjust course in care plans.

Facilitating data sharing

To take full advantage of the benefits of wearable healthcare tech ensuring data is shared securely and efficiently is key. Solutions like RapidSOS help facilitate this exchange by instantly sharing data from devices like wearables and PERS to first responders. Getting this data to EMTs and dispatch can ensure continuity of care while reducing the time it takes to respond to emergencies. 

Wearables can provide a treasure trove of critical information about patients, but there needs to be processes and protocols in place to ensure it’s shared with the relevant parties when needed, while still respecting patient privacy.

Wearable healthcare tech is helping to exponentially accelerate the growth of the digital public health system: all they need to do is plug them in to the right stakeholders to help make a difference.

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