In recent years, the buzz has only increased around the Internet of Things (IoT). Whether touting the many conveniences that devices including smartwatches, in-home assistants, and even smart appliances or concerns over privacy and hacking, the IoT is a large part of many homes and isn’t going away. While these devices are household names, the healthcare industry has been slowly embracing smart devices and wearables in an ever-growing realm of the Internet of Health Things (IoHT). Let’s have a look at some of the most innovative technology in healthcare wearables.

Infant Care and Monitoring

Becoming a new parent is one of the most exciting and terrifying experiences that many people experience and baby monitors are nothing new.   However, new parents have the IoHT to turn to for a helping hand. Innovative new technology like the Mimo Smart Baby Monitor onesie can send information to a parent or caregiver’s smartphone at any time of the day or night about baby’s sleep position and duration, temperature, breathing, and movements to give anxious parents a little more peace of mind. Additionally, the data can then be taken to a pediatrician to both establish baseline health and help diagnose issues.

Another option in infant monitoring is the Owlet Smart Sock. The sock is adjustable as the infant grows and, in addition to movement, heart rate, temperature, and breathing, also measures blood oxygen level.

However, these devices do not guarantee protection from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), consistently one of the leading causes of infant mortality. Additionally, the American Academy for Pediatrics cautions users to “not use home cardiorespiratory monitors as a strategy to reduce the risk of SIDS.” As with any new technology, some embrace any tool to give what they consider a digital advantage, and others feel that too much information isn’t a positive addition to their lives.

Cardiovascular Health

Though on the decline heart disease is still the number one cause of death globally. It stands to reason, then, that the monitoring, early diagnosis, and even prevention of heart disease is of great interest to patients and healthcare professionals alike. Though many activity trackers (Apple Watch, FitBit, Amazon Halo, Whoop Strap) measure heart rate, results are mixed. It is widely understood that these devices are acceptable for the casual observer but not near accurate enough for clinical applications.

Though the wrist-worn devices appear to be quite accurate when the wearer is at rest, for accurate active monitoring, something like the Polar Chest Strap is recommended as the accelerometer in many smartwatches can cause inaccurate readings as the wearer moves their extremities.

Outside of fitness, the AliveCor Kardia Wireless EKG Monitor is a portable, medical-grade device that is able to detect irregular heart rhythm including AFib and thus preventing patients from having to wear a cumbersome chest monitor or have regular EKGs taken at a clinic.

Diabetic Care

Worldwide, the number of people with diabetes has quintupled from 1980 to 2014. In addition to the dangers of high or low blood glucose, diabetes is also a major cause of heart attacks and strokes, lower limb and appendage amputation, kidney failure, and blindness. As one in 10 Americans are now diagnosed with either Type 1 or Type 2 Diabetes, healthcare device companies are increasingly providing wearable options to better manage and monitor their condition.

The Dexcom G6 is an FDA approved device that can be worn on the skin for up to a week instead of finger-pricks each time a patient or clinician needs to check blood glucose levels which are then sent to a smart device for storage and reference. The Abbott Freestyle Libre is another on-skin wearable that provides continuous monitoring for up to 14 days and also can either be used with a smartphone or a connected device. Both devices and those similar allow patients the freedom to monitor their blood glucose without carrying around a bag full of supplies and pricking multiple sites per day.

Going beyond what is traditionally considered a “wearable,” researchers at Harvard and MIT have jointly created a tattoo ink that is sensitive to blood glucose levels and will change colors if “off-nominal” levels are detected. The most obvious benefits include no run-down batteries, no forgetting testers or strips or devices at home, and real-time monitoring. However, the team reports that the ink is not yet as stable as it will need to be so as not to fade too quickly. As many diabetics voluntarily get tattoos to indicate their condition to first responders in the event they are found unconscious, this may not be as far-fetched a solution as it initially appears. 

Respiratory Health

Respiratory diseases affect millions worldwide. Asthma (339 million) and COPD (65 million) alone affect almost half a billion people. Many patients effectively manage their symptoms through a variety of treatments including inhalers, nebulizers, and pharmaceuticals. These have previously taken the form of devices that the patient breathes into or through. The Spire Health Remote Patient Monitoring service pairs a wearable device that affixes to a patient’s clothing to a “Care Team” who then receives a notification of any adverse changes and can contact the patient for further assessment.

Chronic Pain Management

The management of chronic pain is also becoming increasingly urgent. Though fairly stable in 2011-2012, the increase in overdose deaths involving fentanyl, in particular, doubled each year from 2013-2016. As the opioid crisis has come to the forefront of the public’s attention, many patients and providers are looking for alternative methods of pain management.

Enter wearables like the NERUOMetrix Quell which operated on a TENS model of treatment marketed directly to consumers for home use. Though coming onto the scene with a lot of promise as a non-pharmaceutical option for chronic pain, the Quell has since experienced a pivot from the consumer market after users reported a lackluster performance in overall pain relief. As of August 2020, the Quell is under evaluation as a treatment in Chemotherapy-Induced Peripheral Neuropathy in the UK.

Cognitive and Mental Health

Deaths caused by dementia reached the fifth leading cause of deaths in 2016, more than doubling from 2000. Alzheimer’s affects approximately 50 million people around the world and impacts economies to the tune of $1 trillion USD each year. For many caregivers and family members, a simple device like the GTX Corp. SmartSole Shoe Tracker Insert can provide a wealth of peace of mind. Other wearables like the AngelSense clothing attachment and the iTraq also include fall-detection.

In another area of mental health, for those who experience debilitating stress, the Pip Stress Management Biosensor hopes to offer monitoring and tracking to better manage stressors and take action before a panic attack or other adverse event occurs.

Data is only as good as the access to it.

All of this is not to mention “stickables,” or patches that pair with a device for maximum efficacy, smart pillboxes that can remind patients as well as caregivers of dosing times and avoid confusion, smart inhalers that can automatically adjust dosage, and the list goes on. Just as a 2000 forecast of cell phone technology and trends would have badly predicted our current devices (remember when phones were getting smaller?), the future of healthcare wearables is uncertain.

What is certain, however, is that whatever form they take wearables and the IoHT will play a large role in the future of healthcare. The main commonality between all of these devices is the need to report to a standalone app or another connected device. This leaves your healthcare data siloed and difficult to consolidate into a cohesive patient portrait. At EHR Data, our goal is to integrate health data from all sorts of entities, including wearables, to generate the most holistic profile of a patient and their health status.