Wearable technology is everywhere – in our homes, in our news, in our fashion shows. In fact, by 2019 the global wearables market is set to reach more than 126 million units – an increase of over 80 million units compared to this year.
The place where wearable tech will prove most invaluable, however, will be the healthcare sector. Indeed, it is estimated that healthcare apps and gadgets could reduce EU health costs by £77.5 billion.
On one end, there is the very sophisticated technology: the smart glasses for surgeons that allow ground-breaking surgeries to be broadcast across the globe; the contact lenses for diabetics that measure glucose levels in tears. That’s the kind of wearable healthcare technology that’s likely to make headlines.
On the other end there are the more personal gadgets, such as Fitbits. Whilst most people assume these gadgets are for personal use only, they could actually have a huge impact on the healthcare sector.
Doctor Afzal Chaudhry, the chief medical information officer for Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, for instance, believes that wearable devices would be a real asset to healthcare professionals. Wearable technology would allow patients to track their own healthcare over a long period of time, thus enabling doctors to recognise and understand important changes more easily – creating an improved standard of care.
In conjunction with video conferencing, Doctor Chaudhry also hopes that wearable technology will pave the way for virtual clinics. He says that for patients who regularly need to visit specialist clinics for general check-ups, virtual clinics would be incredibly useful. Not only would they save patients time and travel costs, but they would also free up valuable clinic appointments.
As with any technology that collects personal data, however, there are concerns. Wearable technology would create even more data for healthcare providers to deal with – on top of their already enormous amounts. Any provider wanting to support wearable technology would need to have robust data protection systems in place. Moreover, organisations would need to ensure that they have the tools to properly make use of this data. BI software could solve many of the problems healthcare providers face when it comes to data – from uniting data from a wide range of sources, to allowing individual providers to make better, more analytical decisions based on their patient data.
It’s not just healthcare providers that are using wearable healthcare technology however – employers are using it too. Many companies, particularly in the US, are beginning to offer wearable fitness technology to employees as part of their wellness programmes, believing that a fitter workforce is a more productive workforce. According to Gartner, around 10,000 companies offered fitness trackers to their employees in 2014; and it is believed that by 2016 most companies with more than 500 employees, in both the US and Western Europe, will offer them.
Whilst the companies that offer such initiatives stress that they are entirely voluntary, there are a lot of concerns surrounding privacy. Scientist Andre Spicer thinks that such schemes constitute a “blurring of boundaries between the public life… and the home life,” adding that “It’s a real invasion of privacy.”
Thus it seems that whilst wearable technology could prove to be a vital asset for the healthcare sector, its expansion into the workplace is something that many employees are wary of.
Image courtesy of Robert Scoble.