Health related functions have gradually become the core of wearable products. Recently, it has been reported that Apple will add sleep tracking function to Apple watch. In fact, Apple’s three major health functions updated substantially last year have announced that the positioning of Apple watch has shifted from fashion consumer goods to sports health. More and more data of our body can be collected through wearable devices, but it is not enough. In addition to data collection, medical institutions and consumers should make full use of these data as part of disease treatment and care.
Wearable medical devices used to be a neglected market, but there is a huge demand. For general users, measuring heart rate and sleep quality may be optional. But for patients with chronic diseases, a wearable device that can continuously monitor their body data in real time is likely to extend their life. According to the World Health Organization, chronic diseases are by far the leading cause of death in the world, accounting for 63% of all deaths. In 2012 alone, there were 38 million deaths caused by chronic non communicable diseases worldwide, including 8.5 million in China.
In fact, modern medicine is more and more dependent on the collection and analysis of human body data, and it is more important for medical institutions to continuously track the patient’s physical condition after discharge. American cardiologist Eric J. Topol pointed out that in the past, the data in the medical field depended on the population average and median under the statistical framework, and this statistical model did not consider the heterogeneous differences between individuals, so it would cause some improper treatment.
The ideal form of this wearable device used in the medical field is an electronic tattoo like skin. In the last article of the near future series, aifaner described in detail that this kind of “electronic tattoo” can even feed back the changes of physiological indicators through color changes. However, this kind of equipment has very high requirements for electronic components, and can not be commercialized on a large scale in a short time. Before that, is it possible for patients with chronic diseases to improve their physical condition through wearable devices?
Although the market scale of wearable medical devices is still small, some technology companies have begun to develop wearable devices for chronic diseases. This market with strong demand but long neglected has become a new entrepreneurial track. Myia labs, an intelligent health detection platform in the bay area of the United States, is one of them. The company’s team is composed of doctors, designers and engineers, aiming to provide wearable devices for medical institutions to monitor patients with chronic diseases.
After working with the hospital, myia will provide a wearable device package for patients with chronic diseases, including a tablet computer, Omron’s sphygmomanometer arm band, patches and rings for monitoring heart rate, and Oura, a device for tracking sleep and movement. According to myia, these devices are easy to operate, mainly for patients with chronic diseases such as heart failure, reduce the number of emergency visits for them and patients with postoperative diseases (such as heart failure), and try to make predictions before the onset of patients.
If this product is developed successfully, millions of diabetics will get rid of the blood glucose meter. Unfortunately, verily announced the suspension of this project last year because there is an insurmountable technical gap in determining blood glucose concentration through tear glucose. But Google is not alone in developing similar technology. Sensimed, a biotechnology company in Lausanne, Switzerland, has also launched a smart contact lens Triggerfish for medical monitoring, targeting glaucoma patients.
Triggerfish’s thickness is only 100 to 200 microns, but the built-in piezoresistive strain sensor can be extended under the pressure to detect the subtle changes around the cornea, so as to measure the changes of intraocular pressure, which is the main index for the diagnosis of glaucoma. The contact lens can measure the intraocular pressure every five minutes within 24 hours, wirelessly transmit the data to the receiver on the lens patch through near-field sensing, and finally transmit the data to the doctor’s computer. Unlike Google’s stillborn smart contact lenses, Triggerfish has been clinically proven and licensed to be sold in 33 countries around the world.
An “artificial nose” developed by Israeli scientists based on nanosensors can even detect the unique chemical signals of patients with lung cancer or head and neck cancer by breathing, with an accuracy of 90%. At present, it is not realistic to achieve a wearable device that fits the skin like a tattoo, but it is possible to make a lighter and thinner wearable device for chronic diseases, which will bring important changes to patients with chronic diseases and the medical industry.
This is probably the greatest integration ever, integrating rapidly mature digital, non-medical mobile devices, cloud computing and networks with the booming digital medical field of genomics, biosensors and advanced imaging technology. Simon segars, CEO of chip company arm, once said that one of the great values of wearable devices in the future medical field is to reduce medical costs. In the future, patients with chronic diseases may no longer need to go to the hospital frequently for physical examination. For patients in some remote areas, the burden will be greatly reduced.
Moreover, continuous monitoring can more comprehensively reflect the changes of the patient’s body than regular review, can more timely find problems, and is more likely to reduce the mortality of chronic diseases. According to the world bank, if China reduces the mortality rate of cardiovascular and cerebrovascular diseases by 1% between 2010 and 2040, it will generate an economic benefit of US $10.7 trillion.
But the premise of all this, in addition to the monitoring accuracy of wearable devices to reach the medical level, also need to build a huge online medical embodiment with medical institutions, and when everyone’s various body data start to upload to the cloud, privacy protection has become a problem that can not be ignored. When wearable devices are deeply involved in the medical field to realize the digitalization of human body, the controversy may be no less than the campus monitoring based on face recognition, but it is likely to be the future trend of medical industry and technology industry.