May 18, 2015
According to ABI Research, medical applications are one of the main drivers of wearables in the enterprise space. The way we see it, wearable tech comes into play in this field in three ways:
1) There are wearable devices worn by healthcare providers. For example, MedEx paramedics in Chicago and doctors at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston wear Google Glass to communicate and check patient information.
2) Then, there are wearable medical devices for managing chronic diseases and for monitoring patients post-hospitalization, including wearable glucose monitors, ECG monitors, pulse oximeters, and blood pressure monitors. These can be used, of course, in hospitals but are also worn by patients – either purchased by them through their insurance or provided by a doctor – with the doctor having access to the data via a smartphone or tablet.
3) The last category comprises wearable devices for health-related uses, such as sports and fitness trackers. These can affect health insurance rates and users or wearers can also grant their health providers with access to the aggregate data.
While smartglasses such as Google Glass and Epson Moverio and also smart badges like Hygreen’s and Biovigil’s hand hygiene monitoring systems for hospitals are used primarily by healthcare providers; other devices – smart clothing, smart patches, wearable monitors, fitness trackers, ingestibles, etc. – are worn by healthcare recipients.
Now that we are somewhat familiar with the popular medical wearables and their users, let’s turn to some of the real and imagined healthcare applications for wearables. Wearables stand to function in healthcare & medical scenarios in a number of ways, including improving access to patient data and remote monitoring of patients with chronic diseases. Pre-care applications allow doctors and patients to treat potential problems before they become more serious, and thereby reduce costs. Wearable tech can also assist in monitoring patients post-care—for example, in tracking a patient’s recovery process post-hospitalization. Again, this would cut costs.
Wearable technology can make routine medical procedures more efficient, including detecting a patient’s veins for drawing blood, as well as facilitate telemedicine, remote expert consultations, and remote medical training. But while these applications are all currently being explored, they do not come without significant challenges.
Compliance with regulatory agencies and privacy issues constitute two of the major obstacles to implementing wearable technology in medical settings. Public opinion of Google Glass and the like notwithstanding, a heads-up display, voice-controlled wearable computer has immense potential in healthcare; but medical institutions, perhaps more than any other enterprise organization, face seemingly insurmountable privacy obstacles—most obviously, the Health Information Patient Privacy Act or HIPPA. In order for wearable technology with live-streaming capabilities such as Google Glass to be used in a medical setting, the device would have to run over a healthcare-specific, password-protected, encrypted network; otherwise, HIPPA laws will have to change considerably to accommodate wearables.
One great potential for smartglasses in healthcare is to allow a doctor’s audience to visualize what he or she is seeing and to engage with him or her in real time. Whether for teaching, collaborative, or consulting/referral purposes, it is clear that smart eyewear such as Google Glass amounts to game-changing technology for healthcare & medical. But the technology cannot exist without significant expenditure and support, including a powerful WiFi connection, which is difficult to sustain in a lead-lined operating room. Forget the limited battery life of most wearable devices currently on the market, without robust WiFi wearables fail in the hospital.