Ep. 6: Biosensors, Not Simple Wearables Are The Way Forward In Digital Health

Wearables and measurements. Which Point of Care devices are just gadgets and which ones bring actual better outcomes for patients?

Here’s what’s wrong with wearables.

1. Questionable data gathering

When used for prevention, it has become clear by now, that a person gets tired of using a wearable or a health app in only a few months. It is important to note that this holds true mostly for relatively healthy people, not patients with serious illnesses.

2. We are measuring what we can, not what we should

British researcher Prof. Dr. Anthony Turner, Head of The Biosensors and Bioelectronics Centre at Linköping University Sweden: “we haven’t yet made the sensors we really need, we are using the sensors that we happen to have.” That is why in recent years investors have been more interested in other sensors: ingestibles, implantables, etc..
We are entering an era of sensors for complex chemical reactions and molecular recognition in the body. “This requires more regulation and caution in testing and development,” says Prof. Dr. Turner. However, we can expect more significant improvements and outcomes.

3. Questionable measurements

Apart from data being questionable due to inconsistent data gathering by the user, another issue is data reliability. If you wear your phone with a tracker and two tracking wearables for activity measurements, you are bound to get different results. Similar is true for home Point of Care devices. Are they then useful or harmful?
If you will ask laboratory technicians, they will tell you that Point of Care devices are far from laboratory accurate. But in which cases is that relevant?

As Prof. Dr. Turner says, “from a laboratory perspective and for research purposes you always look for the best. However, Point of Care devices for patients just need to be good enough for managing conditions and early warnings. Personal devices for diabetes are not as accurate as clinical laboratory, but it doesn’t matter — they are good enough for management decision.”

So what can we conclude out of all this? Wearables are simply a step in the evolution of health technology. Sensors are still promising us all a bright future. They bring:

1. Automation

More and more of them are embedded in the environment. Measuring is becoming seamless, taking away the issue of consistency with gathering data.

2. Savings

Biosensors have had a very long and successful history of miniaturization. “It took 20 years for that to happen for wearable blood glucose monitors, while glucose meters evolved from a huge instrument of 40,000 dollars to a device which today costs 7–17 dollars,” illustrates Prof. Dr Turner. For inventors, the biggest issue is, what kind of business model will work. But the final judgement from a financial perspective is clear: massive savings could be achieved.

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