Sponsored By
Norbert Sparrow

March 22, 2016

3 Min Read
Wearable medical devices with the power to heal

The global market for medical wearables is projected to grow in the high double digits for the remainder of this decade. According to one recent market report, it will surpass $7.8 billion by 2020. That might even be a conservative estimate when you consider the likely evolution of medical wearable devices. A blog post published by Worrell, a design bureau in Minneapolis, MN, provides a vivid description of the far-reaching potential of this technology not only to monitor patients but to actively help them to heal.

“By extrapolating current trends in design, material science and usability, our vision for the future of wearables is one that moves beyond providing basic behavioral feedback to body-altering technology that can rapidly heal a patient by providing smarter therapies, while seamlessly linking the patient to a larger connected-care community,” writes Worrell in the post. To illustrate, the author imagines an avid climber named Annabelle, who has a bad fall while training at her gym. She sprains a ligament in her knee, jeopardizing her plans to scale Half Dome in Yosemite National Park later in the year.

What a full-body smart suit might look like.

In the scenario imagined by Worrell, Annabelle’s doctor prescribes a full-body smart suit fabricated from conductive materials and fitted with sensors. “The suit is programmed to provide Annabelle with the additional strength she needs in key locations to maintain a healthy posture; conductive fabrics constrict in desired locations to bolster any weakness, while also limiting motion as her body heals,” explains Worrell. “At night, a gentle compression therapy kicks in to promote blood flow to Annabelle’s knee and back.”

A tablet synced with the suit provides guidance as she goes through her physical therapy regimen and sensors provide real-time feedback. Her physical therapist follows her progress remotely, as the suit senses strain, inflammation and exertion and reports the results automatically to a central database. As she heals, artificial intelligence reprograms her suit to adjust the therapy while she sleeps.

Worrell’s patient of the not-too-distant future is healed in time to make that trip with her friends to Half Dome.

The technology, as imagined by Worrell, is by and large available today. But that’s only part of the struggle: As a medical device, it will have to go through the FDA mill, and then someone will have to pay for it.

FDA is not as big a hurdle to new technologies as it has been in the past, and the agency has approved a number of smart wearable devices: Sister publication MD+DI recently featured some of them in an article titled, "Eight FDA-blessed wearables and apps changing healthcare."

And just a couple of days ago, Parker Hannifin Corp. received FDA clearance to put the Indego wearable exoskeleton on the market. The motorized leg braces restore mobility to people with spinal cord injuries, multiple sclerosis and other forms of lower-body paralysis. But, as the Wall Street Journal noted, the company faces “years of work to convince the insurance industry that the health benefit of the devices—at a cost of $80,000 each—are worth covering.”

The evidence is in that medical wearable devices can work miracles. The question is, who will pay the miracle worker?

About the Author(s)

Norbert Sparrow

Editor in chief of PlasticsToday since 2015, Norbert Sparrow has more than 30 years of editorial experience in business-to-business media. He studied journalism at the Centre Universitaire d'Etudes du Journalisme in Strasbourg, France, where he earned a master's degree.


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