According to the Association of American Medical Colleges, there will be an estimated shortage of between 37,800 and 124,000 primary and specialty-care physicians by 2034. With significantly fewer doctors, rising healthcare costs and an increase in patients with chronic diseases, utilizing technology to monitor and treat patients more efficiently and effectively has never been more urgent.
Harnessing the power of wearable devices for remote patient monitoring
With fewer doctors, efficiency in medicine will become increasingly critical. Wearable devices are a new frontier for healthcare, providing historic longitudinal data and continuous physiological 24-hour monitoring; and early detection of chronic conditions and acute disease onset based on personalized physiological baselines. Wearable devices can allow doctors, nurses and other clinical staff to monitor patients—whether they’re in the hospital or at home. With patients’ physiology remotely measured in real time, hospitals can free up beds, doctors can keep watch on patients’ vitals regardless of location, and greater efficiency is gained.
With wearables, doctors and patients can gain never-before-seen insights on their physiological systems—cardiovascular, digestive, endocrine, immune, muscular, nervous, renal, reproductive, respiratory and skeletal systems—from monitoring blood pressure and heart rate, to detecting Covid symptoms, wearables provide powerful insights on patients that complement the ability of doctors to provide the most accurate diagnostics and care. With 85% of all health costs today related to chronic diseases, the importance of monitoring and diagnosing as early as possible cannot be overstated.
The Role of Biometrics
Wearable electronic devices are an excellent ambulatory option for detecting the physiological parameters of the wearer, generating biometrics utilizing light-based and other sensors. Of the $70 billion wearable technology market in 2019, $20 billion in revenue came from wearable medical devices.
Biometrics are generally defined as the measurements taken on a person to help us to differentiate them from someone else. The biometrics that we are interested in are those that can tell us something about the healthy functioning or state of disease of the human body. This includes vital signs like heart rate and breathing rate, but also behaviors, like at what time someone goes to bed or how much they exercise.
High resolution and continuous biometrics provide information on much more than basic behaviors and vital signs, since variations in biometrics allow us to infer another layer of information that cannot be measured directly. This includes things like sleep stages for example. When someone is in rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, their body becomes paralyzed and their heart rate shows less variability than when the same person is in deep sleep. Combining sleep data with therapeutics of acute and chronic illnesses will result in higher efficiency and superior outcomes – without wearables, general sleep data are not accessible to enhance every day care.
An important aspect of biometrics is that we can detect anomalies, which are defined as rare events in a user’s data, by building sophisticated mathematical models of how all of their biometrics vary over time and by looking for times when the user’s data deviates from these patterns. These anomalies provide clues that can be used to detect events that are either acute like the onset of Covid-19 or that are chronic, like atherosclerosis which causes gradual changes in the cardiovascular system.
Benefits of wearable devices
Wearable devices will record a patient’s vital biometrics even when they are healthy so that these would be available to help finding solutions when they are sick. It further builds a unique personalized physiological health model and baseline for each individual and scans around-the-clock for anomalies that would point to the onset of acute diseases or the acceleration of chronic conditions.
Once such an anomaly is detected, it would advise the user to engage with a health professional, and offer the opportunity to produce a screening report that would help inform the professional—in a GDPR-compliant manner—who would then decide on a method of diagnosis if necessary. Post diagnosis, the medical professional is provided with a dashboard to monitor the patient remotely. This applies to both acute and chronic diseases. From Covid-19, sleep and arrythmias such as atrial fibrillation, wearable devices can be a powerful tool for doctors and clinicians in caring for patients.
The Future of Wearable Devices
Wearable devices can provide patient monitoring, surveillance, screening, diagnosis, and assistance with treatment, post-treatment, and ongoing management. These devices also determine, and confirm efficiency of treatment based on real-time physiological feedback. They provide early detection of relapse and indicate if there is any deterioration of health after a period of improvement. Additionally, wearable devices can provide physiological monitoring during clinical trials, such as in the case of new drug development, and provide early detection of adverse effects. Wearable devices are already widely adopted, do not involve any major changes in user behavior, are highly scalable, and accessible from a cost perspective.
With rising challenges facing the medical community in the coming years, and as the U.S. population grows more unhealthy, digital devices will be a critical solution for patient care and remote patient monitoring. Harnessing the power of technology to better understand the human body, wearable devices and remote patient monitoring truly represent the future of healthcare.
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