The wearable health trackers’ revolution has been going on producing devices that let us measure vital signs and health parameters at home. It is changing the whole status quo of healthcare as medical information and now tracking health are available outside the ivory tower of medicine.
A 2014 report showed that 71% of 16-24-year-olds want wearable technology. Predictions for 2018 include a market value of $12 billion; a shipment of 112 million wearables and that one third of Americans will own at least a pedometer.
Now a growing population is using devices to measure a health parameter and while this market is expected to continue growing, devices are expected to shrink, get cheaper and more comfortable. At this point, nobody can be blaimed for over-tracking their health as we got a chance for that for the first time in history. Eventually, by the time the technology behind them gets better, we should get to the stage of meaningful use as well.
Let’s see what I can measure today at home:
- Daily activities (number of steps, calories burnt, distance covered)
- Sleep quality + smart alarm
- Blood pressure
- Blood oxygen levels
- Blood glucose levels
- Cardiac fitness
- Body temperature
- Eating habits
- Cognitive skills
- Brain activities
- I also had genetic tests and microbiome tests ordered from home.
What else exists or yet to come? Baby and fetal monitors; blood alcohol content; asthma and the I could go on with this list for hours.
The next obvious step is designing smaller gadgets that can still provide a lot of useful data. Smartclothes are meant to fill this gap. Examples include Hexoskin and MC10. Both companies are working on different clothes and sensors that can be included in clothes. Imagine the fashion industry grabbing this opportunity and getting health tracking closer to their audiences.
Then there might be “insideables“, devices implanted into our body or just under the skin. There are people already having such RFID implants with which they can open up a laptop, a smartphone or even the garage door.
Also, “digestables“, pills or tiny gadgets that can be swallowed could track digestion and the absorption of drugs. Colonoscopy could become an important diagnostic procedure that most people are not afraid of. A little pill cam could be swallowed and the recordings become available in hours.
Whatever direction this technology is heading, believe me, I don’t want to use all my gadgets to live a healthy life. I would love to wear a tiny digital tattoo that can be replaced easily and measures all my vital signs and health parameters. It could notify me through my smartphone if there is something I should take care of. If there is something I should get checked with a physician.
But what matters is finally I can become the pilot of my own health.
Right now patients are sitting in the cockpit of their planes and are waiting for the physicians to arrive.
Insurance companies such as Oscar Health have touched upon this movement and offer incentives and rewards (e.g. Amazon gift card) if the patient agrees to share their data obtained from health trackers. This way motivating the patient towards a healthier life.
There is one remaning step then, the era of the medical tricorder. Gadgets such as Scanadu that can detect diseases and microbes by scanning the patient or touching the skin. The Nokia Sensing XChallenge will produce 10 of such devices by this June which will have to test their ideas on thousands of patients before the end of 2015.
I very much looking forward to seeing the results. Until then, read more about health sensors and the future of portable diagnostics devices in my new book, The Guide to the Future of Medicine.