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The revolution of wearable technology

Anna Tamasi | 14th April 2014

Nowadays we can hear a lot about wearable technology and speculations about how it will become the next big thing after mobile. New wearables are emerging rapidly, from Google Glass and Facebook acquiring Oculus, to smart watches like Motorola Android Wear and Samsung. Here at Blue Latitude we are very interested to see what impact this trend could have on healthcare and the pharma industry.

Looking at the social aspect of wearable technology, there are of course some obvious glitches, like the aversion to Google Glass’s ever-present camera, but sooner or later our social conventions will have to keep up with technology. Linking wearables to gamification, social activities or personal challenges (such as Nike+, FitBit, and Jawbone UP) means we can track and share our achievements - be it a simple workout, quitting smoking, or recovering from a condition. But sharing (almost medical) data can be tricky. There are lots of uncertainties around how this user-generated data can be used by third parties (insurers, medical professionals, etc.) as well as how data will be collected and aggregated from different sources without breaching any privacy laws. Further to this, different devices and data integration systems should make it easy for users to make sense of all the data collected. Companies should plan for controlling, analyzing and curating the data and providing relevant content around that data.

So what is in all these wearables that make them mainstream for healthcare?

Primarily it is the sensor technology (like contact lenses, ingestible sensors, and skin patches) that is driving the data through interconnected devices and cloud technologies. The health industry is already full of wireless medical sensors that can track everything from sleeping diaries to body temperatures, heart rates, hydration, and respiratory functions. These sensors can then communicate with other sensors - like the ones in our homes, cars, portable devices and of course our healthcare providers - creating a one-stop shop for health information. This will enable users and patients to monitor and track their own state of health and medical conditions.

Last week, I visited Camp Digital in Manchester, and one of the interesting apps I saw there was the ithlete, which hooks up the personal data tracked by an algorithm that collects HRV (heart rate variability) data and other subjective measures (e.g. sleep, stress, muscle fitness). What ithele offers is that users can track their physical and wellness progression as they use the app. Because the app is constantly providing them with feedback, it means users end up doing something about their health, so their overall results will improve over time. The goal of sensor-enabled technologies is to empower users and patients and to give them more control over their health and medical data. Smartphones play an important role in this game as many companies realize the potential to integrate these sensors into apps, devices or other accessories (take Apple’s plans to integrate HealthBook into iOS8). However, no matter what kind of smart wearable we are talking about it has to be a transparent design which blends into the wearer’s lifestyle naturally. It should also be ‘calm’ which means that it informs us when needed but doesn't demand our focus or attention at all times. 

For more on wearable technology, read the article from Stuart Goodman.

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