Medtech trends: Why 2015 will be the year of wearable health technology

I'm at that age where I have to keep an eye on my blood pressure. My doctor wants me to check it twice a day. Predictably, I often forget to do it. A wearable blood pressure sensor developed by researchers in Korea would solve this problem, and then some, by providing continuous monitoring.

Blood pressure varies significantly throughout the day and it would be ideal to measure it multiple times, but prevailing technologies make that impractical. Not so with a monitor that simply adheres to the skin, such as the one developed by researchers from Seoul National University and the Electronics and Telecommunications Research Institute in Daejeon, which enables continuous monitoring without inconveniencing the user. The device is designed for clinical use and does not communicate with a smartphone or wearable device, but one can imagine that is coming.

Easy Rider wristwatch scene
What does Easy Rider have to do with wearables? Read on.

IHealth introduced an ambulatory blood pressure monitor earlier this year that connects to Android and iOS phones via Bluetooth 4.0. And an Indiegogo campaign was launched at the end of October to raise money to develop the H2, a wristband that is described as the "world's first wearable blood pressure monitor," which may be a slight exaggeration. That device also would sync with your smartphone.

Today's wearable devices can monitor vital signs such as heart rate and body temperature, sleep patterns, as well as any number of fitness-related activities. However, once the novelty factor wears off, consumers tend to send them to that place where old home exercise devices and obsolete cell phones live. A PwC report on wearable technology found that 33% of surveyed consumers who purchased a wearable device more than one year ago say they no longer use it or use it infrequently. So, why will 2015 be different?

Well, there's the Apple Watch. While the initial roll out may have limited health applications, it's almost a given that many will emerge as time goes by. The stylish design of the Watch and the Apple spell that bewitches consumers whenever the company comes out with a new product will make wearable tech ubiquitous.

While consumers have not yet embraced wearable health technology in large numbers, writes PwC in an associated report on health wearables, they are interested. "More than 80% of consumers said an important benefit of wearable technology is its potential to make healthcare more convenient," write the authors. To make them adopters, however, the price to the consumer must come down, the privacy of health data must be ensured, and the devices must be intuitive to use.

"For wearables to help shape the New Health Economy, next generation devices will need to be interoperable, integrated, engaging, social, and outcomes-driven," said Vaughn Kauffman, principal, PwC Health Industries. "Wearable data can be used by insurers and employers to better manage health, wellness and healthcare costs, by pharmaceutical and life sciences companies to run more robust clinical trials, and by healthcare providers to capture data to support outcomes-based reimbursement. But it will be critical to address the consumer concerns that we've identified, such as cost, privacy, and ease of use."

For consumers to flock to wearable health tech, I would also add that it is imperative that the data that spews endlessly from the devices be transformed into insights. This came up frequently at a wearable tech conference I attended this summer. A former Microsoft executive who is now CEO of Sensoria, a maker of biometrics-enabled clothing, summarized it best: "We need to inject wisdom. There is so much data, but the user has to be able make sense of it."

Echoing that thought, Paul D'Alessandro, Principal and Customer Experience Leader, PwC Health Industries, told Brian Eastwood of, it's one thing to know how many steps you take, how many calories you burn, and how many calories you consume. It's another thing to calculate your basal metabolic rate, or the amount of calories your body burns if it's otherwise inactive, and develop a wellness plan accordingly. Turning device data into something actionable for a patient will move wearables from their early days into larger-scale adoption, he told Eastwood.

We have the technology, and innovators around the globe are harnessing it to provide users with actionable health data that is delivered by an unobtrusive, stylish device.

And that's why I might well be wearing something around my wrist in 2015 for the first time since 1969, the year that Easy Rider came out and Peter Fonda famously threw down his wristwatch before embarking on his American journey.

My prediction is that quite a few of you will decide it's time to embrace wearable health technology, as well.

Norbert Sparrow

Norbert Sparrow is Senior Editor at PlasticsToday. Follow him on twitter @norbertcsparrow and Google+.

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