Why wearable technologies offer a prescription for better healthcare

Rob Clark, vice president of business development of Epson Europe speaks to Talk Business about how wearable technologies can pave the way for better healthcare.

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The majority of older adults are becoming afflicted with at least one chronic disease, many of which are so called ‘lifestyle diseases’ – those associated with lifestyle and diet choices. Chronic diseases, such as obesity, diabetes and other cardiovascular problems are often the result of inactivity and further lead to unhealthy, sedentary ways of life. What all of this means is that, as a region, Europe is facing a growing trend that will inevitably and critically impact both our healthcare systems and our economy.

Employers are already becoming progressively concerned with the effect that chronic diseases have on the working population in terms of sick days and reduced productivity.  There are even questions over whether the healthcare systems in place are suitable today, let alone for the future, with most ill-equipped to meet the requirements of those with chronic health problems.

The question is who, and how, will we take care of the older, longer-living population and at what cost? Unless new solutions are found to address these challenges, the rising costs of healthcare ‘could bankrupt an entire nation’.

E-health

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Next-generation wearable technologies support a healthier lifestyle allowing young and old alike to track their activity, heart rate, sleep quality, calories burned and even how their state of mind affects their heart rate. This should empower people to improve their lifestyle choices, which in turn would reduce their vulnerability to lifestyle diseases and take the pressure off the national healthcare systems.

Wearables are also satisfying consumers’ needs for more information about their activity levels and general well being; this includes the older population, who are now more tech-savvy and information-hungry than ever before. Furthermore, multi-functional wearable devices are designed for easy use and portability.

Trials have shown that wearables could play a big role in the health monitoring of entire workforces too. In Japan, companies have been using Epson’s biometric monitors to help employees monitor and improve their health. The latest generation of these products can be used to help curb obesity, providing people with a simple way to track and monitor activity, calorie consumption and sleep patterns.

The future of wearables in the healthcare industry

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One of the key advantages of using wearable technologies is the mobility it allows. 

Our own recent research indicated that 64% of those in the healthcare industry in France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the UK believe that wearable technology will help improve performance and efficiency in their industry. This includes 19% who already acknowledge that real time vital signs and health monitoring would likely improve performance and efficiency.

But by no means are wearables only part of a distant future; they are being successfully implemented into today’s healthcare industry, and vital sign monitors are not the only changes influencing the way wearable technology can, and is being used. Wearable products that enable the use of augmented reality and data overlay are also forging a place within the medical world, improving processes, efficiencies and patient care.

Epson’s Moverio platform is being used in UniversitätsSpital Zürich – the main hospital in the Swiss capital. In this instance the Moverio is being used to help improve the accuracy of CT scans used to determine the position and size of tumors. As the CT scans are used as reference data for radiotherapy treatment, it is extremely important to get as accurate an idea as possible of the position and extent of a tumor because it is the only way to target a tumor with precision whilst protecting healthy tissue as much as possible.

One of the CT scan challenges is the elimination of patient movement caused by breathing during the CT scan process. For this reason, patient participation is key in order to keep breathing even and, by using the Moverio to display an image of this movement for the patient to see, they are better equipped to control their breath depth and pattern and ultimately the CT image accuracy.

Smart glasses and sensing technologies being used in cases like these are successfully pushing forward the monitoring of vital signs, position and motion in individuals as well as delivering enhanced capture and overlay of data and information, improving precision, accuracy and confidence in practitioner diagnoses and treatment.

For Epson, these technologies have been a logical progression and we are already seeing exciting applications of our crystal-based sensing technologies, both under development and in use within the medical field.  Our sensing heritage spans several decades, and we are one of the only companies in the world that not only grows its own crystals, but also manufactures its own crystal devices and the semiconductors needed to control the crystal units. These capabilities have meant that we have established credentials in movement, pressure, temperature, GPS receivers and biometric sensing. 

According to Credit Suisse, the overall wearables industry is already worth up to $5 billion; and with nearly 50,000 health apps developed around the world, and more and more work being done to build new applications, wearables are set to become a powerful tool for innovation in healthcare. ABI Research, a US technology market intelligence company, has also predicted that more than 100 million wearable wireless medical devices will be sold annually by 2016, with Europe and Asia Pacific combined accounting for about 49% of healthcare wearable market revenues by 2018.

The potential for wearable technology to positively disrupt the healthcare and wellness industries is huge and what they will be capable of is virtually limitless. Only time will tell whether we are able to put them to good use and curb the pressure that global trends are set to place on our society.