Wearable devices, or wearables, are already revolutionizing medicine through mobile and digital health by enabling continuous, longitudinal health monitoring outside of the hospital . Wearables enable consumers to continuously monitor important physiological and biochemical parameters during daily life.
In its early stages, wearables were limited to tracking a person’s weight loss or step count. However, consumers are no longer satisfied with these basic parameters . Advanced performance metrics like body fat percentage, sleep quality, stress levels, and water levels are in high demand as people are starting to discover that one’s overall health is the sum of all the small daily choices: how much one drinks, how much one sleeps, how much one moves . Innovation in the realm of personalized health technologies offers a unique opportunity to develop connected healthcare models built around a patient’s individual needs. This marks the increasing and the evolving role of wearables in modern medicine.
In today’s market, 19% of Americans use a wearable fitness tracker (e.g. Fitbit, Apple Watch, Garmin, etc.). Sales are projected to double by 2022 wearables are predicted to become a $27 billion market, with no signs of slowing down . Basically, it is a very lucrative field, and the consumer demand for more personalized insights has pushed manufacturers to produce highly capable smart wearables that are able to track water loss, blood oxygen content, and even predict atrial fibrillation (in the case of Apple Watch). What this means for the consumer is that in a few years, innovations in health wearables will have produced a wearable that can track the minutiae of human health.
There are some mobile applications that have taken advantage of the increasing complexity of wearables, and the health data and have essentially “gamified” healthy activities and habits such as daily exercise, fasting, and consuming a healthy, balanced diet.
One such example is “Zombies, Run!”, a viral mobile application available on The App Store which currently has over 400,000 downloads. Consumers can link their wearables (most commonly a smartwatch or fitness tracker) to the application and can track certain health metrics in the context of the game. For instance, “miles run” is read as “zombies evaded,” and more “zombies evaded” means more in-game points and benefits. One study found that positive and negative reinforcement through gamification of inherent goals resulted in an increase in the actual health behavior that was being targeted . However, this gamification of health behaviors would only be possible through the health tracking sensors on a consumer’s wearables, and it will be exciting to see what mobile health app developers and wearable manufacturers can come up with in the future to further optimize this experience and motivate more people to engage in healthy behaviors. While they may be lucrative for the private healthcare industry, wearables will undoubtedly lead to better health outcomes as well, as they are more personalized and offer more clinical insight for physicians and medical scientists to hone in on certain health trends and invent therapeutics to match a patient's specific healthcare needs .
Widespread adoption of wearables might even save the healthcare industry millions of dollars in the long run. A wearable that could theoretically allow physicians to track patients’ conditions from a distance would eliminate the cost and need of transferring them to a medical facility if the patient begins to develop symptoms . Recognizing symptoms at an early stage allows for less expensive treatments, which highlights the impact wearables can have on the shift of medicine towards a preventative model of healthcare that reduces in-patient care and potentially leads to better health outcomes .
Wearables have the potential to change the landscape of medicine as we know it. Its effects are not limited to the private healthcare sector, and future innovations to wearables can have broader implications for the future of healthcare. Joining technology and medicine in this way is the new face of modern medicine, and it will be exciting to see the direction wearables will go and how consumers will benefit from them.
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