As wearable MedTech continues to evolve rapidly, does there continue to be a business case to develop this technology, and how will organisations like the NHS embrace digital healthcare in the future?
According Future Market Insights report, the wearable medical device market will see an expansion of over 28% by 2032, resulting in a value of over $73 billion. And Deloitte predicts that by 2024, over 440 million new devices will be released. The pandemic has clearly been a key driver as consumers look to monitor their health closely. What was a small niche market has massively expanded as new wearable technology developed.
With the ability to monitor several physiological metrics with advanced wearable technologies, consumers have taken more control over how they monitor their health to help them react quickly to medical crises and manage more long-term health issues and provide early warning of potential medical issues in the future. Do these devices have medical value, or are they gadgets that feed an insatiable appetite for new technology?
Also, from a business perspective bringing any new wearable medical device to the market is a complex long, and expensive process. Leaders in this market, such as Apple and Samsung, are also joined by QUALCOMM and LG Electronics when patents are analysed. This market is also clearly expanding, with VC investment projected to increase by around 14% by 2027.
Accenture calls the connection with wearable medical technologies and the wider technology landscape the ‘consumer patient.’ “The rise of the Consumer Patient requires MedTech companies to adopt and develop human-centric approaches,” the report states. “At the same time, patients are also becoming increasingly more powerful. They now have the ability to self-educate. And they have expectations toward effective treatments and the immediacy of care. Leaders in our interviews pointed to the need for specialised skills and expertise in this area. These will be core to meeting patients’ expectations.”
Speaking to Silicon UK, Niels V. van den Bergh, CEO, mintBlue says: “Enabling healthcare providers to monitor vitals, like heartbeats, sleep cycle, activity etc. is valuable, and still relatively novel in the market. But these devices get even more exciting once they begin to monitor stress levels, and other stress indicators. However, these biomarkers are a very personal type of data, and most modern devices store that data in a central cloud database which restricts user’s ownership and permission control. By using the blockchain, NOWATCH users keep absolute data ownership and control because the data is stored on the public blockchain, separate from any private and commercial entity.”
Platforms such as Biostrap offer an integrated approach to health monitoring that closely connects several monitoring devices to an app and a monitoring web-based dashboard that can be tailored to the users’ and healthcare professionals’ needs. The bespoke nature of systems like this makes them highly flexible to deliver personalised physiological monitoring.
New research from the Organisation for the Review of Care and Health Apps (ORCHA) gives an insight into the current attitudes towards digital health in all its forms. “The appetite for digital health is also strong across all age groups,” the report concludes. “The highest number of advocates are seen amongst those aged 35 to 44 (78%) and 25 to 34 (74%); it could be the case that this group values the flexibility an app offers when juggling healthcare with busy family life. Advocacy also doesn’t drop very much amongst older age groups, with levels of 68%, 64% and 60% seen amongst those aged 45 to 54, 55 to 64, and over 65 years old respectively.”
Also, mintBlue’s Niels V. van den Bergh told Silicon UK: “It currently takes around 17 years on average for verified clinical techniques to be written into clinical standards. Consumer medical device use really started in the early 2000s and is starting now to mature. Like all things in medicine, the change will be slow, but of course, as doctors start to embrace technology to keep patients healthy, or signal problems before a critical event, patients will be quick to get on board. Inversely, patients who start collecting and using their data now will have real data to reference when looking for new solutions to persistent health problems which will encourage practitioners to explore the use of biometric data in their practice.”
Wearable medical devices are reshaping healthcare. Each device can collect vast quantities of data that can now be analysed with the help of AI, for example. Taking more personal control of healthcare is a clear trend that technology companies have been paying close attention to. With wearable devices, healthcare becomes anytime and anywhere exercise.
For example, while Parkinson’s is the fastest-growing neurological condition globally with no available cure. Charco, an Imperial College spinout, has developed an original and first-of-its-kind non-invasive wearable device aimed at easing the motor symptoms of Parkinson’s called the CUE1. The device has been developed in close cooperation with members of the Parkinson’s community to make sure it caters to their needs.
What does the future look like, and how will wearable technologies factor into the future of digital healthcare? The Future of Healthcare report paints a vivid picture of an NHS adopting many of the burgeoning healthcare technologies we see evolving today.
In collaboration with renowned futurist Tracey Follows and the input of over 100 dedicated NHS workers, 95% of healthcare workers believe that robots will become part of their day-to-day lives by 2035, and one in five think robots could be a reality as soon as 2030. Seven in ten (71%) NHS workers believe that AI, if correctly used, could help to reduce patient waiting times significantly. Almost half of healthcare workers (46%) expect doctors to be extinct by 2098, and nearly three in ten (27%) of those polled expect real-time wearable healthcare trackers to be one of the main advancements the NHS can expect to see in the next five years.
Many patients, especially out-patients, will be using wearable technology to update them with their latest OBS (vital signs) and understand when they are within or outside of various parameters. Two-thirds (64%) of NHS workers are comfortable with the idea of greater adoption of AI and wearable tech. A third (35%) actively think that wearable devices will play a significant role in patient monitoring (35%). This is also an area that NHS workers think will make an immediate impact. Nearly three in ten (27%) of those polled expect real-time wearable healthcare trackers to be one of the main advancements the NHS can expect to see in the next five years.
Tracey Follows, Founder and CEO of Futuremade, a futures consultancy, said: “It was fascinating to work on the Future of Healthcare Report with Florence and the findings paint a positive future for our NHS. What is clear is that AI is going to impact all and every industry, and the number one skill we will need to develop as humans is how to work alongside and in collaboration with non-humans. Looking ahead, it is clear that nurses will have AI as their co-pilot to help inform, analyse, diagnose and advise patients – as well as care for them – in the future. It will free nurses up from admin and allow them to focus even more on the human in front of them, or even the human remote from them.”
Blood pressure and glucose monitoring devices have been available for several years. As wearable digital technologies have improved, sleep monitoring, EEGs, hormone and respiratory monitoring are now possible with watch-like devices. However, these metrics in isolation are useless. There is a clear trend in MedTech to create integrated healthcare pathways that use wearable devices but are not the only focus.
Bernard Ross, CEO of Sky Medical Technology.
Bernard Ross is the CEO and founder of Sky Medical Technology (Sky). Sky creates world-leading medical devices that save lives while saving healthcare systems money. Sky’s biomedical devices use its proprietary bio-electronic nerve stimulation technology – OnPulse™ – clinically proven to increase blood circulation in the deep veins of the calf. The result is the company’s multi-award-winning device, the geko™ – a wristwatch-sized wearable applied to the knee, delivering painless electrical impulses to stimulate blood flow without the patient having to move. It has been globally adopted into healthcare systems to treat a range of medical conditions, including the prevention of venous thromboembolism and the treatment and prevention of oedema (swelling).
What are some of the most promising advancements in wearable MedTech that have emerged in recent years? How are these technologies revolutionising healthcare?
“Wearable non-invasive devices can improve patient’s quality of life, reduce spending on the NHS and improve the efficiency of healthcare systems. These include diagnostic devices such as temperature sensors, pacemakers and magnetic resonance imaging apparatuses, which healthcare systems use more commonly.
“However, another specific example is a wearable, non-invasive device clinically proven to increase blood flow. For venous leg ulcer patients, oxygenated blood can be transported to the wound edge and bed, accelerating the healing rate when combined with compression therapy. The result means venous leg ulcers can heal in weeks, as opposed to months or not at all.
“Wearable non-invasive MedTech of this type are, by design, easier for patients to self-apply or to share their care with family members and community nurses. The benefit is enhanced recovery in the home setting, with reduced healthcare system costs through lower community nurse home visits and more rapid and better patient outcomes.”
What are the main challenges or limitations currently associated with wearable MedTech devices?
“Before being adopted, medical technology devices were increasingly required to demonstrate proven positive outcomes such as speeding up recovery times, reducing treatment costs, or improving treatment. In the last decade, they have been subject to similar stringent regulation as new drugs, and innovation can only be implemented into healthcare systems with real-world clinical and economic evidence of success.
“Only then will a device have the potential to achieve regulatory approval – another hurdle. Medical devices considered a ‘platform technology’, meaning they serve more than one medical application, are particularly challenging because they must prove clinical and health economic benefits for each market they serve to achieve adoption.”
In what ways have wearable MedTech devices improved patient monitoring and diagnostics? Can you provide specific examples of conditions or diseases where wearables have made a significant impact?
“Wearable MedTech devices have changed a lot over the years, and their leading causes today include remote patient monitoring, care delivery, and diagnosing. In particular, smartwatches can detect illness symptoms by alerting users about abnormalities and sending the readings directly to a healthcare professional. This enables illnesses to be detected in their early stages, leading to better treatment outcomes.”
What measures are being taken to ensure the security and privacy of sensitive health data collected by wearable MedTech devices? How do regulatory frameworks address these concerns?
“Wearable devices, such as heart pacemakers and insulin pumps, can now track patient data more accurately before sending this information to the user and their doctor. However, medical data may contain sensitive information, so ensuring this information is used fairly and transparently is essential.
“The regulatory framework, such as GDPR, enables complete control and transparency over personal data. This allows the users to decide how a company can share this data with others, and fines for noncompliance are reinforced by law and have the potential to be enormous.”
Are there any ongoing studies or clinical trials evaluating the effectiveness and reliability of wearable MedTech devices? What are some of the key findings or outcomes from these studies?
“At Sky Medical, we have recently shared the results from a landmark multi-centre randomised self-controlled trial (RCT) and the findings were significant. The study compared the standard of care with and without the geko device in patients with hard-to-heal venous leg ulcers (VLUs) and revealed a doubling in the rate of wound healing in patients treated with the geko device compared to patients who received standard of care alone. This is the first RCT to show a statistically significant increase in the rate of healing in VLU patients treated with an adjunctive neuromuscular electrostimulation device.”
How do wearable MedTech devices integrate with existing healthcare systems and electronic health records (EHRs)? Are there any interoperability challenges or standards being developed to enhance compatibility?
“Wearable MedTech devices can monitor patients at all times in any location and assist healthcare specialists in their jobs. The data provided by wearable devices can be recorded in an Electronic Health Record (EHR) to create a complete and transparent view for healthcare specialists on their patients, leading to greater insights.
“However, several challenges are faced when transferring data from a wearable device into EHRs. Firstly, this data may be unreliable, as if a person isn’t using a wearable device, this leads to inaccurate data. Poor authentication and insecure network connections also mean this data is vulnerable and susceptible to attacks; meanwhile, specific EHR systems aren’t compatible with every wearable device, leading to further complications.”