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The wearables revolution is coming: Are you ready to try it on for size?

By Ahmad Zbib, MD

Oct 11, 2020. It’s 5:45 am. My alarm goes off and I wish it didn’t. It has been harder to wake up despite my going to bed earlier than usual. I reach out for my phone to upload the data from my AirSyncPillow 3000, which I purchased two weeks ago as recommended by Dr. Johns.

Today is the day I send my two-week log file to Dr. Johns to help him make his final diagnosis. Alas, I look at my sleep pattern data and it confirms how I feel – it indicates restless sleep activity. I’m really not looking forward to being diagnosed with sleep apnea, but at least I know there is something I can do about it. I put my feet down and that recognizable voice on my phone asks, ‘Would you like me to turn on your coffee machine?’ How can I say no to this question?

I put my slippers on and walk to the shower as I hear the coffee maker grind the beans and start perking away. At about the same time, my shower radio turns on, playing oldies from the last decade.

Technology is finding its way into our lives. The smarter our phones and their accessories get, the more indispensable they become. And if you are like me, technology becomes an indispensable extension of your body.

Nowadays, there seems to be quite the interest in ‘wearables’. Wearables are miniature electronic devices that are worn under, with or on top of clothing, usually for the purpose of capturing objective measures such as steps taken, body temperature, heart rate and much more.

Most recently, a new category has emerged: the ‘ingestibles’, miniature electronic devices and as the name indicates, they are ingested. Once inside the body, they can capture information and relay it back to external devices. Such devices include Proteus Digital Health’s pill-embedded sensors, which track medication adherence.

Be it wearables, ingestibles or a new category that will likely emerge by the time you are reading this, these technological advances are already shaping the way healthcare is being delivered. Although the impact is more visible amongst the early adopters of both patient and healthcare provider groups, it is only a matter of time before the rest follow suit.

These gadgets will also have an impact on the way we train our future medical/clinical professionals. Earlier this year, UC Irvine School of Medicine announced that they will be implementing Google Glass as part of their curriculum and that is just the beginning. Google is currently projecting to sell over 21 million units of Google Glass in 2018 and healthcare is expected to get a fair share of the pie. Also, virtual reality accessories such as the Oculus Rift are already being used to train surgeons and to practice before sensitive procedures.

A digital health geek like me can go on and on talking about the different kinds of devices in the market, but let’s get serious. The multi-billion dollar question here is: why should we care?

If you are an executive at any healthcare organization and this is not on your radar, I’ve got advice for you: it should! Consumers and patients are adopting wearables – including watches and other devices – that are giving them a tremendous amount of information. Combined with the information they can find on the web, they will have more challenging questions for your doctors, nurses and other clinicians. What’s more, other organizations will start to incorporate the data from wearables into electronic health records – if you’re not aware of what others are doing, you risk becoming obsolete!
We often hear of doctors and nurses building apps by leveraging the help of entrepreneurs and business incubators, and many of their offerings are actually quite useful. It’s important to stay on top of new developments, so that your services remain relevant.

My advice is simple:

• Stay up to date: Reading this publication is a great start. That being said, this is not enough. Start by devoting time daily to catch up on the latest and greatest from the world of digital health, mHealth and wearables. The simplest way is to follow key influencers on social media outlets such as Twitter and LinkedIn. On Twitter, start by searching the following hashtags: #digitalhealth, #mhealth, #wearables and #hcsmca. On LinkedIn, join relevant groups such as Paul Sonnier’s Digital Health Group. Another way to stay up to date is by attending meet-ups and conferences – there are many to be found in all major cities around the year.

• Experiment (fail, early and fast): the best way to learn something is to get involved. If you happen to be in town when the Hacking Health group is hosting an event, join a group and I promise, you won’t regret it. Another way to learn is to engage with a group of early adopters. Learn from their observations, as this is often an indication of what the general population will be interested in three to five years later.

• Think ecosystem. Gone are the days of locked-down systems. Almost every wearable device on the market place has an API (Application Program Interface). Leverage some of these APIs to provide connectivity to your own systems – where it makes sense, of course. Do not ignore privacy and security requirements, but at the same time, do not let privacy and security be the barriers to progress.

Ahmad Zbib, MD, is Director, Digital Health and Innovation at the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada.

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1 Comment responses

  1. Avatar
    November 24, 2014

    Being in the process of creating my own start up; I actually want to provide IT services for the Healthcare sector and I learned a number of things just by reading this article it enriched my knowledge and approach to the IT Healthcare business. Great article and very useful information.

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