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September 9, 2020
We provide a breakdown of the different kinds of wearables on the market, and how they can help address new challenges in the healthcare industry.
The wearable devices industry has grown into a major market force over the past decade. In 2016, the global wearables market topped 33.9 million units. Now, recent market research indicates that more than 559 million units will be purchased in the United States alone by 2021 — the equivalent of $95.3 billion in revenue.
Wearable healthcare technologies such as watches, trackers, monitors certainly aren’t new. However, the coronavirus pandemic has accelerated the need for innovative solutions that support telehealth initiatives — and wearables have received special attention. In this article, we take a closer look at some of the popular wearable technologies on the market now and the benefits they bring to the healthcare industry more widely.
“Wearables” refers to a broad category of electronic devices, typically worn as accessories, that collect and transmit data about the wearer for a variety of purposes. The applications of wearables are wide-ranging. Consumers can use them to track vital metrics throughout the day, monitor the air quality of their surroundings, or as part of a clinical assessment.
The technology behind wearables varies by device, but most use some form of Bluetooth® connectivity. Smartwatches, for instance, collect data using built-in sensors that can track movement and biometrics. Sensors can seamlessly share the data they collect with other technologies or smartphone apps using Bluetooth signals, WiFi connectivity, or mobile 4G LTE technology. Wearables can also deliver data directly to the cloud using IoT, which allows the device to tap into real-time data. Real-time monitoring also offers more advanced features like EKG monitoring or sleep tracking.
The wearable technologies market has exploded in the last few years, and it continues to expand as new innovations and applications become available. Broadly, wearable technologies can be broken down into four major categories:
The line between fitness trackers and smartwatches continues to blur. Fitness trackers are cheaper and focus more on functionality than aesthetics, but the latest trackers also offer smartphone features like notifications and alerts. Smartwatches on the other hand, dominate the wearables market. Consumers are drawn to Apple Watches and similar technologies because they offer multiple features in a convenient, wrist-sized package.
Older smartwatches could only tell time and track steps, but today, smartwatches have evolved into a slick hybrid between smartphone technology and health monitor. Smartwatches can track physical activity, heart rate, lead a short meditation, and more. When a user syncs their watch to their phone via Bluetooth, they can make calls, read messages, send texts, and play music without ever touching their phone.
Wearable health monitors perform many of the same functions as top smartwatches, but these technologies tend to have more robust health-tracking capabilities. For example, OMRON’s HeartGuide wearable monitor tracks the user’s daily activities like a smartwatch, but it also uses its sensors to measure their blood pressure. HeartGuide collects blood pressure readings and sends that data to HeartGuide’s companion app, where users can review their readings and share them with their doctor. Wearable ECG monitors and blood sugar monitors are also becoming more popular as their technologies improve.
Smart cutaneous wearables are thin, skin-like patches that can be used for standard health monitoring, diagnosis, and drug delivery. Patches are smaller, more delicate than monitors or smartwatches and are designed to detect the smallest changes in the body. Advanced nanomaterials in this technology can detect trace amounts of toxins, proteins, chemicals, and electrolytes through the skin. Patches can also deliver precise, timed drug dosages based on health readings. This can be excellent for diabetics who need to check their blood sugar and receive insulin regularly.
The smart clothing wearable technology market is still maturing, but it is expected to boom in the next few years. Experts predict that the market for smart clothing will skyrocket from 3.3 million units in 2017 to 21.2 million by 2021 — a staggering annual growth rate of 76.1 percent. Smart clothing provides similar advanced health monitoring and lifestyle improvement capabilities to smaller wearables, but on a larger scale.
Levi’s and Google have already collaborated on a smart denim jacket that connects to the wearer’s smartphone and gives them access to certain online services right from the sleeve. Swimsuits that tell the user when to reapply sunscreen are available for purchase, and Samsung is working on smart shirts that can diagnose respiratory diseases. Soon, consumers might be able to put together an entire “smart” outfit with unique features.
The widespread use of wearable technologies has many benefits for healthcare. One primary benefit is that wearables help make telemedicine and remote health monitoring possible. For instance, patients can wear a blood pressure monitor and share their readings with their doctor over video chat. This way, they will receive expert medical advice even from a distance. Wearables can also be a great option for people who live in rural areas. Remote monitoring programs have been shown to reduce in-person visits by 74 percent, and implementing these programs during the pandemic can help keep doctors safe and reduce non-essential visits to hospitals.
Wearables are also powerful drivers for preventative health. Data-collection gives greater visibility into patient health and empowers users to manage their own conditions and make informed lifestyle choices. According to a VivaLNK survey, 55 percent of respondents would use wearables regardless of whether or not they cut down on doctor’s visits. Many also express a strong interest in DIY health monitoring — at least 24 percent of patients currently use wearables for that very reason. Wearables help patients to develop a greater understanding of their health, and many users welcome this responsibility.
In addition to their clinical uses, wearables are also helping to slow the spread of COVID-19 in numerous ways. Smartwatches, monitors, and disposable fever patches can check for unusually high temperatures. Wristbands with Bluetooth LE and Ultra-Wide Band (UWB) technology use Bluetooth signals to gauge the distance between two users and ensure they stay at least six feet apart. This technology helps administrators and officials monitor spikes in physical contact and optimize the use of physical space in order to keep employees safe. From a public health standpoint, wearable technologies help make public spaces smarter, safer, and more convenient.
The future of wearables is full of promise, especially as medical device manufacturers continue to pursue innovation that leverages connectivity technologies to improve healthcare. Chip features can make or break advanced wearable technology, and wearable device makers need the right SoC solution to ensure their products shine in a competitive, rapidly-changing market.
Telink provides the multiprotocol Bluetooth LE and SoC solutions that help wearable device manufacturers create innovative, sophisticated, and potentially life-saving devices. Our chips offer powerful, low-power, scalable connectivity that’s applicable to a wide range of IoT use cases — without driving up costs for manufacturers. Telink technology has already been featured in wearables and other social distancing devices aimed at stemming the spread of COVID-19.
Contact us today for more information about Telink’s SoC solutions.