A year in review
The biggest wearable technology trends in 2021
2021 has brought huge changes in healthcare and wearables. All aspects of wearables, from physical, to digital, to data, have undergone innovations, and many are still being accelerated by the ongoing pandemic as we adapt to various forms of restrictions. What are the biggest trends, and what further changes might 2022 bring?
The COVID technology hype
The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in huge hype around various areas, including respiration monitoring, remote monitoring and remote care, clinical trials and digital biomarkers, and preventative and predictive technologies. These have generated some of the highest levels of innovation from April 2020 to today; while the technologies existed prior to the pandemic, high levels of investment have enabled them to mature at variable rates. Many of these technologies have journeyed through the graph below, which is known as the Gartner Hype Cycle.
Using wearable technology in the context of clinical trials has meant that real-world evidence can be gathered with different protocols and testing procedures in a vast range of circumstances rather than just in a medical context, although after the initial expectations this has been slow to mature as technology has moved slowly. Respiratory measuring, however, has moved much faster. In the end, there is often a plateau as the technology fits the problem correctly.
Aside from the pandemic, there are other areas which have gained traction and continue to do so. Some of the significant ones include hearing augmentation and assistive technology, technology to assist with neurodegenerative conditions, sweat monitoring and how mobile applications in health related contexts are building peoples’ trust in digital technology.
Hearables have advanced technologically through hearing aids, which are very high tech, pioneering medical wearables. The gap between these and the layperson’s headphones is starting to be bridged by the likes of Apple and Nuheara, using what Thrive CEO Jacob Skinner defines as the “consumerisation of medical technologies”. Nuheara works in the gap between the traditional, functional hearing aid, and user-centered, expansive tech to augment users’ hearing, to deliver people both medical grade assistive technology and a user experience and design aesthetic commensurate to the modern consumer technology space.
In the neurodegenerative conditions space, wearable solutions have gone mainstream. Avon and Somerset police have started issuing wristbands to dementia sufferers so they can be found, and panic buttons, electronic devices that raise an alarm in emergency situations when a person needs help, are commonplace. Readily-accessible sensor options for use in the detection of early onset and chronic neurodegenerative conditions include speech, walking, gait, sleep patterns, heart rate and motor control amongst many potential options, and applications using these are being deployed at scale through significant financial investment across public and private funds.
Sweat monitoring has also come on in leaps and bounds given that it is of great interest to sports applications and preventative, predictive healthcare for conditions such as diabetes. As a result, it has received a lot of attention and financial investment. Glucose, sodium, potassium, luctate, PH, can all be monitored with this technology, with applications in hydration monitoring, detection of cancer and diabetes monitoring appearing in the market.
Remote healthcare monitoring
The lockdowns enforced during the COVID-19 pandemic have caused a huge acceleration in the growth of remote healthcare monitoring. High quality care at home is something that many patients want, but it is dependent on reliable measurements and robust infrastructure . Huma, a British healthcare technology company that integrates health data from existing hospital databases as well as patient wearables and other mobile devices and securely transmits it for use by doctors, ran highly successful wards trials with the NHS. They improved patient satisfaction and maintained high standards of care, while reducing cost and increasing throughput for hospitals.
Often, the system was as simple as a one-on-one phone call and a blood pressure cuff issued to patients. Due to the success of these trials, this trend will continue to grow throughout 2022 and beyond, and we’ll see fully connected systems for medical grade wearables delivering high quality biometrics through patient-centered data systems, with early detection algorithms evolving to target specific conditions.
Orcha is a team dedicated to assessing and qualifying digital applications, providing validation for teams developing the apps. Applications that have been qualified by Orcha are used by the NHS, and the usage of these has increased exponentially over the course of the pandemic, with NHSx commenting that “The COVID-19 pandemic has led to an increase in the adoption of digital technologies in the NHS and changes to the way services are provided at an unprecedented pace”in their Listening to digital health innovators report 2021.
Wider adoption of telehealth by healthcare providers
The pandemic caused a huge surge in the use of telehealth services. In the uncertainty of the early pandemic, healthcare providers hastily embraced any option that might help them deliver care remotely. These brought a lot of innovations to light and helped identify cost effectiveness, adoption, reliability and more. However, many of these changes reverted to traditional forms of care as restrictions and lockdowns were rolled back in mid 2020. What we’ve seen in 2021 is the maturing of only the value-added telehealth services, while less useful innovations were discarded.
These services represent the foundation on which patient and patient device data will be sent to doctors. Innovators will have to be aware of this space and the market players in order to adapt their offering to reach the market efficiently.
These changes have had the added benefit of bringing patient data and privacy to the fore, and it has become paramount to add patient input from the beginning of any health innovation.
The human digital twin
As more companies begin to collect biometric data in real time over an extended period of time, we are starting to see a development of the human digital twin. This reproduces digitally the physical and physiological characteristics of a human being. This data allows us to gain accurate insights into someone’s future health when we couple it with data from healthcare providers.
This development has massive implications, not only for preventative medicine and lifelong personal healthcare, but also in data protection, right to privacy, and completely tailored health insurance – or the possibility of refusal of insurance without a wearable / nearable device collecting data for your digital twin.
We are approaching a fascinating era for healthcare, and the benefits and risks need to be understood by all so that we can make informed decisions on early regulation instead of being forced into a reactive position when problems and issues are uncovered.
Here at Thrive, we continuously monitor trends in technology and look forward to what 2022 will bring in the health & wellbeing space. We are excited by the role wearables will have to play in empowering people to better monitor and manage their health. If you are working on a HealthTech or MedTech project that has a wearable device aspect, our team of experts can support your journey of taking it from idea to mass production. Read more about how we can help.