The medical tech industry has been trending toward more wearable options for patients for years. After the telehealth swell of 2020, industry experts everywhere are predicting this rising trend to turn into an all-out surge in 2021.
Here’s a look at some wearable medical devices currently in the works and how we might see this landscape change in the near future.
Engineers out of the University of San Diego have been hard at work developing a postage-stamp-sized wearable patch with the ability to track multiple metabolic and hemodynamic parameters at once.
This ingenious monitor, which is worn on the neck, continuously measures blood pressure, heart rate, blood glucose, lactate, caffeine, and alcohol levels.
The patch combines multiple sensors, each of them working a little differently.
The blood pressure sensor utilizes ultrasound transduction. Ultrasound waves are pulsed into the body, the echoes of which are picked up by the sensor and translated into blood pressure readings.
The blood glucose sensor uses a mild electrical current to force interstitial fluid to the surface of the skin where glucose readings are made. Similarly, a sensor on the opposite side of the patch releases a drug called pilocarpine to stimulate the skin under the sensor into sweating. This sensor can be programmed to measure alcohol, caffeine, or lactate in the sweat that’s produced.
Such a convenient way to track so many vital statistics has obvious applications for hospitals and ICUs. But it is also a device that could be used day-to-day by people living with diabetes, and not just for its blood glucose monitoring abilities.
Both type 1 and type 2 diabetics are at an increased risk for heart disease and sepsis.
A minimally invasive, wearable device such as this could give both patients and their doctors advanced warning of any changes in heart health. And, since sepsis onset is marked by a sudden increase in lactate levels, it could also serve as a warning system for undetected infections.
Early studies indicate this patch is impressively accurate, but there is still a lot to do before it hits market. Currently, the prototype is undergoing remodeling to make the electronics smaller and to make the entire thing wireless and simpler to use.
Blood Glucose Monitors for All
Blood glucose monitoring has long been important for people living with diabetes. But the market for these wearable devices is quickly increasing beyond traditional groups.
As more and more people show interest in taking control of their own health, the line between the wearable medical device industry and the consumer tech industry has blurred.
Companies like Nutrisense, Levels, and January already offer continuous glucose monitor subscriptions to non-diabetic members of their health programs. These small devices are worn on the arm and connect to each company’s app platform to give the customer real-time data into their eating habits, fasting times, and exercise trends and how each affects their glucose metabolism.
This kind of hyper-in-depth information appeals to both self-proclaimed health freaks and those with a history of diabetes or those at risk of developing prediabetes. With 10.5% of the American population already living with diabetes and another 88 million adults considered pre-diabetic, the potential long-term impact of these kinds of CGM programs could be huge.
They also highlight the potential for devices originally developed as wearable medical tech to break through to the consumer market. This market holds fewer hurdles in terms of regulatory clearance and the potential for a larger target audience.
Looking Over the Wearable Tech Horizon
There are currently 84 million Americans using health and fitness apps that include some tracking or wearable component. Add this to the 122 million Americans who are diabetic or prediabetic, most of whom do not currently use a wearable device, and you have a huge potential for market growth.
Just as 2020 forced insurance companies to cover telehealth visits, we are likely to see providers become more comfortable with offering coverage and incentives for less traditional treatment in the coming years.
According to Business Insider, 75% of consumers who use health apps with wearable tech, say the devices help them engage more with their own health. Since those who are more engaged with their health are less likely to suffer from lifestyle-related diseases, it is in the best interest of providers to incentivize their members to utilize wearable tech, whether of the medical or consumer type.
As insurance companies begin to back a wider selection of medical tech options and consumers become more eager to take their health into their own hands, we will only see the world of wearable medical devices continue to grow and diversify.