The Explosion of Wearable Sensors in Healthcare



Healthcare is in the midst of a transition from conventional medicine to a patient-centric, consumer-led model. Earlier, a doctor would diagnose and plan the treatment based on a fragmented medical history or medical records. However, with the advent of wearable technologies and sensors, it is possible to generate rich data sets that would enable health provider to offer more personalized health decisions.


Electronic devices that consumers can wear enhance their personal experience by collecting users' personal health and exercise data. Tracking one's health-related activities offers benefits such as personalization, early diagnosis, remote patient tracking (RPM), prescription adherence, information repositories, improved decision-making, and healthcare costs reduction.


Wearable medical biosensors track body health parameters in real-time and include enzyme-based, tissue-based, immunosensors, DNA biosensors, thermal and piezoelectric bio-sensing systems. The industry of wearable tech is expected to grow exponentially from $23 billion to $54 billion by 2023, according to GlobalData forecasts. There is a greater demand for personalized and disease-specific wearable devices due to developments in the field of AI and machine learning.


Smartwatches


One of the simplest forms of the wearable fitness tracker is the wristband equipped with sensors to track the user's physical activity and heart rate. Fitbit is one such wearable fitness smartwatches that offer a smartphone app to help users live a healthy, balanced life by tracking all-day activity, exercise, sleep, and weight. Withings provides solutions such as WiFi BodyScale (measure both weight and fat mass and upload the data to the cloud over WiFi), Withings home (video monitoring and security), and Withings Thermo (WiFi connected thermometer). Likewise, the Apple Heart Study app monitors users' heart rhythms and alerts those who are experiencing atrial fibrillation. Another device by Apple is the "Movement Disorder API" that could potentially gather new insights into Parkinson's disease.


Smart Clothing


A survey by the World Economic Forum (WEF) predicted that 10% of people would wear internet-connected garments by 2025. NadiX yoga leggings, Sensoria socks, Ambiotex smart shirts, and Supa Bras are some of the commercially available sports smart clothing. There is an increased demand for smart clothing in healthcare as well, where continuous monitoring of body activities is of utmost importance.


Sensassure develops sensors for adult diapers and strives to enable person-centered elder care. Siren Care a San Francisco-based health technology company creates Neurofabrics – first ever textile with nano-sensors embedded directly into the fabric. Their first product is Siren Diabetic Socks that help people living with diabetes prevent amputations.


Sensoria Health has developed a technology platform comprising novel textile sensors, cloud, and mobile software that enable a wide range of remote patient monitoring applications.


Smart Glasses


Thanks to augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR), eyewear these days are getting smarter. Google Glass is a common feature in many teaching hospitals as a surgical training and assistance tool. From first-person imaging to enhanced turn-wise directions, facial recognition, and health sense, AR is driving smart glasses' penetration into multiple areas of the internet-connected society. Epson, Magic Leap, and Medical Realities are some of the new players in the AR smart glasses market.


Biosensors


Biosensors are up and coming wearable medical devices that are radically different from wrist trackers and smartwatches. The Philips' wearable biosensor is a self-adhesive patch that allows patients to move around while collecting data on their movement, heart rate, respiratory rate, and temperature. Research from Augusta University Medical Center has shown that this wearable system has the potential to enhance patients' conditions and potentially reduce the workload of employees.


Many start-ups are creating wearable biosensors. Endotronix develops miniaturized, wireless, and implantable pressure sensors implanted as part of interventional cardiovascular procedures. VitalConnect makes wearable biosensor technology for wireless hospital and remote patient monitoring. Similarly, InfoBionic has a MoMe System that is a patient monitoring platform to allow physicians to accurately diagnose and treat patients. Ceribell focuses on making electroencephalography (EEG) widely accessible, more efficient, and more cost-effective.


Glympse Bio, a is health tech that builds bioengineered, in vivo sensors for many diseases. Recently it clears the first-in-human safety study of its injectable biosensors made of nanoparticles.


FeetMe is a start-up that offers specialized development of connected insoles. Current Health has a device that is an FDA-cleared upper-arm wearable to track skin temperature, pulse rate, oxygen saturation, movement, and other metrics. It uses AI for precise early warning alerts.


Wireless battery-free wearable sweat sensor


Wireless wearable sweat biosensors have gained massive traction due to their potential for non-invasive health monitoring. As high energy consumption is a crucial challenge in this field, efficient energy harvesting from human motion represents an attractive approach to power future wearables sustainably. Despite intensive research activities, most wearable energy harvesters suffer from complex fabrication procedures, poor robustness, and low power density, making them unsuitable for continuous biosensing.


Scientists have now developed a new way to power wireless wearable sensors- and that is to harvest kinetic energy generated by a person as they move around! This energy harvesting is done using a nanogenerator, which is a thin sandwich of materials (Teflon, copper, and polyimide) attached to the person's skin. In the future, we will have wearable sensors that will detect levels of various chemicals such as Vitamin C, cortisol, glucose, blood alcohol content, etc.


Biosensor for Continuous Monitoring Using Molecular Look-Alikes


Biosensors measure the concentration of molecules in biological samples for biomedical, environmental, and industrial applications. Ideally, they should provide real-time, continuous data. However, the continuous monitoring of small molecules at low concentrations is problematic.


Researchers at the Eindhoven University of Technology have developed an innovative sensing approach based on molecular look-alikes. This could prove pivotal in future biosensors for monitoring health and disease. A new approach that can continually measure the concentration of low-mass molecules of interest in biological samples based on biosensing by particle mobility (BPM) was reported in a recent publication. The only continuous biosensor that is presently commercially available in the Continuous Glucose Monitor (CGM) continuously measures glucose in interstitial skin fluid, which is very useful for individuals with diabetes. Unfortunately, molecules other than glucose cannot yet be measured continuously. This presents a significant opportunity for sensor innovation!


Wearable for Medical Management


When an AI-based doctor prescribes your medication, the neural network sends the prescription to the patient's wearable, whom he can refer to or even order the medicine using the integrated contactless payment system with the NFC chip embedded in the consumable. Proteus, which consists of inviolable sensors, a small consumable sensor patch, a mobile device application, and a provider portal, unlocks unprecedented insights into patient health patterns and medication treatment efficiencies.


Among the best wearable innovations is the Wearable ECG monitors that use cutting edge electronic technologies to measure electrocardiograms or ECGs. The Move ECG can measure an electrocardiogram and send the reading to the user's doctor and detect atrial fibrillation. It can also track pace, distance, and elevation, and automatic tracking for walking, running, swimming, and biking.


HeartGuide, developed by Omron Healthcare, is the first wearable blood pressure monitor. It is an oscillometric blood pressure monitor in the shape of a smartwatch that can measure blood pressure and daily activity - like steps taken, distance traveled, and calories burned. This device can hold up to 100 readings in memory, and all readings can be transferred to a corresponding mobile app, HeartAdvisor, for review, comparison, and treatment optimization. HeartAdvisor users can store, track, and share their data with their physician while also gaining insights to determine how personal habits affect their blood pressure.


Futuristic Approach


The world is becoming more digitally savvy, and wearable technologies will be an essential component in healthcare. Tech players are becoming ever more embedded within healthcare, either through services, products, or combination ventures. For a long time, wearable technology has been used almost exclusively for fitness purposes alone. Increased awareness and to track their health has brought about the integration of wearable technology with Augmented Reality (AR), Big Data, Artificial Intelligence (AI), and cloud computing solutions. Recent developments provide healthcare with a value-added emphasis on diagnosis, treatment, tracking, and prevention.


GlobalData predicts that healthcare wearables will soon be categorized based on functionality rather than the device type, targeting specific diseases, their symptoms, and treatment compliance. Having mentioned these, the challenges associated with wearable technology are many—concerns of data security, trust issues, and incentives to regulatory and ethical barriers. However, as connectivity improves, the wearables will offer more 'seamless' service and incorporate more readily into customer lives over the next five to ten years; their health-related utility will be comprehended.


The next few years will see a tremendous change in patient care pathways that would drive the industry to grow and collaborate in new ways. There is a need to develop wearable biosensors that give a continuous stream of data rather than only a single data point because that would allow an individual to monitor how a medical condition develops over time. With continued innovation and detailed attention to core challenges, it is expected that wearable electrochemical sensors will play a pivotal role in the emergent body sensor networks arena.



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