Wearables — Past, Present or Future?

Where do wearables fit in our lives and what’s the future for healthcare?

Wearables are an interesting category of devices, they sit in this space between complex technology and everyday fashion. Unlike any product before them, they attempt to blur the lines between what we think of as a piece of technology vs. a piece of high end fashion and in some cases the wearable products are starting to win over the fashion world.

Let’s rewind a little bit. Wearables have existed in some form or another for thousands of years but they’ve only really started to step into our day-to-day world recently.

As far back as the 17th century, there were wearable ring abacus’ from China that allowed their wearer to perform mathematical sums on the go. Fast forward many years and we have much more complex wearables capable of tracking steps, guessing exercises, tracking calories burnt or measuring heart rates. These complex measurements are made simple by beautiful GUIs (graphic user interfaces) which help the user navigate through and most importantly, make sense of, these pieces of information.

In healthcare, there’s a lot of noise about the use of wearables in monitoring and informing a doctor of health and lifestyle experiences outside of the doctors office. The advantage for the doctor is that they see a picture of their patient’s health on a more granular scale over a longer period of time, the advantage for the patient is that their care becomes more personalised.

But is it too late for wearables to really have the impact they need to? We have to question whether wearables — in their current form — have already had their day and are due to be superseded by wearables such as biosensors, which sit directly on the skin as patches or underneath the skin, or smart-pills, that exist inside our bodies in our gut.

IS THE FUTURE LESS ABOUT FASHION AND MORE ABOUT FUNCTION?

Could it be that the future of ‘wearables’ is actually in these devices we see that are currently in their clunky phases and dependent on other devices to function such as the Oculus Rift, Google Cardboard or other VR? These devices, especially if used in combination with smart-pills or biosensors, could lead to a whole new future for healthcare technology.

Imagine being able to swallow a smart-pill and then put on your VR headset and watch the journey of the device in real-time as a 360º video with vital signs such as heart rate, gut bacteria levels etc in the HUD (heads up display). This technology would also help healthcare professionals, allowing them to look at the disease or condition inside your body from anywhere in the world based on the technology inside the smart-pill.

This less-fashion focused approach to wearables might actually open up a much better picture of our health and offer more value to our healthcare services. The current wearable market is an interesting space and has a lot of a value for the consumer but the available information to healthcare professionals is still limited, by taking a less-fashion focused approach, wearables manufacturers could offer a wealth of data to truly help manage a condition and understand the day-to-day impact it has on the individual.

WHAT IS THE FUTURE FOR WEARABLES?

Wearables as we know them now ultimately have a limited shelf-life. They’ll provide the consumer and the doctor with a good amount of valuable extra data that was not available until their advent. However, in the years to come, it will become abundantly clear that what we think of as a wearable will actually seem like a “clunky piece of tech” and will offer such a small picture of our health that we no longer need them.

Ultimately, and I know this may seem a bit ‘1984’ of me, I imagine a world where we have biosensors embedded inside us that monitor our overall health every second of every day and provide a clear picture of how we’re doing. This technology is already implemented in smart-home devices that monitor the house’s ‘health’ so would it seem outlandish to expect this to happen to us soon enough?

Obviously, the biggest challenge here will be to do with data privacy. If you want to read my thoughts about data privacy in healthcare then check out this post.

But the advantage will be in areas of healthcare such as rare diseases where a doctor may only see a case once in their life, if at all. If we have these biosensors embedded within us from early in life, the data could all be anonymously fed into a database of diseases with a wealth of supporting information around vital signs and co-morbidities that could help with identification of the condition with a quick search. This, for doctors who may never see a rare disease or know how to diagnose one, will help create a centralised location for all healthcare professionals and ultimately improve patient experience and quality of life.

WHEN WILL IT HAPPEN?

With this move forwards, doctors and consumers alike will be able to see the warning signs of early stage diseases like cancer, heart disease, diabetes and so on. By being able to have these early predictions, it will be possible to treat a lot sooner and keep people healthier for longer.

It will enable the early diagnosis of rare diseases such as complicated hereditary conditions and allow for treatment to begin almost from birth and therefore reduce the chance of adverse effects on the patient.

I, for one, am excited by the prospect of where wearables could take us and what the opportunity is for the people that are alive to take advantage of this.

Do I think it’ll happen in my lifetime? Yes, I do. Based on Moor’s Law and the dedication that the Pharma industry is putting into improving people’s wellbeing and health, I don’t see why this couldn’t be achieved in the next 60 years and what’s more, I imagine something far greater and beyond my mental capacity will appear and lead to a much healthier population and one that understands health like no other generation in history.

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