The Benefits of Condition-Specific Wearables

A New Way to Detect and Monitor Your Condition

Woman using smartwatch
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First-generation wearables like FitBit and Jawbone were a huge hit for people interested in fitness and health. With their growing popularity, companies and scientists have explored how wearables can be used to monitor or detect medical issues. These devices will emphasize tracking specific factors, such as evaluating sugar levels or sweat production. 

Unlike the fitness trackers already on the market, medical-grade wearables need to pass the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval process to ensure these devices meet required safety standards and improve patients' health.

This can be a lengthy process and might postpone the release of many devices. The FDA already announced it will be employing digital health experts who are qualified to assess and validate the wearables of the future. The good news is that once a device receives the FDA’s seal of approval, it often can be covered by insurance, bringing affordable health technology to more people. 

Wearable Devices That Detect Epileptic Seizures

Some areas of health care have experienced more interest in smart wearables than others, with diabetes and epilepsy care being among the forerunners. Other conditions that will have wearables tailored to their specific condition include obesity, sleep disorders, and cardiovascular disease. 

Empatica is working on a wireless detection and alerting method that could prevent sudden unexpected death (SUDEP) in epilepsy deaths that are behind one in every 1,000 deaths in patients with epilepsy.

Their Embrace Alert System, which was initially developed as a stress detector for individuals with autism, involves a wristband device, the Embrace Watch, that is able to detect unusual events such as epileptic convulsions. The event automatically activates the Embrace Alert app. To notify as many caregivers as possible, the alert from Embrace is also sent to regular phones to reach those without smartphones.

Empatica is currently running a clinical trial and is inviting current Embrace users to enroll to help with the testing of the effectiveness of their system. The data will likely be used to apply for FDA approval as a medical-grade device. 

Smartwatch for Parkinson’s Disease

A smartwatch-like device for Parkinson’s patients is another digital health device that is undergoing a research trial. With the support of the Michael J. Fox Foundation (MJFF), the novel device will be able to detect when a sufferer experiences a so-called “off” episode—a phase when the symptoms of the disease are more pronounced. The smartwatch will be able to detect some of the common symptoms of an off episode, such as stiffness and difficulty initiating movements, also known as freezing.  Furthermore, the device will be employed to monitor the effects of new therapies that can help with these debilitating symptoms. 

Non-Invasive Blood Sugar Monitoring

Diabetes tracking is another important area of development. Different non-invasive methods for blood sugar monitoring have been proposed.

Alphabet’s smart lenses can test sugar levels in tear drops and have received a lot of publicity. These lenses may soon emerge as a new type of a wearable device that would be worn directly in the eye and help diabetics track their glucose levels.

Sampling Sweat for Non-invasive Disease Monitoring

Sweat is another indicator wearables can monitor. Connected with exercise and hard work, sweat is also rich in physiological information. Data from sweat has the potential to predict and prevent diseases. For instance, the hormone cortisol is present in human sweat in similar concentrations as it is in blood. It has been well-established that elevated stress levels can lead to serious health problems, including heart disease and digestive disorders. A lot of health issues could potentially be averted by monitoring a person’s stress at the chemical level. Other medical applications of sweat monitoring include measuring medication levels to detect drug saturation levels and then adjusting dosage accordingly.

Up until recently, screening sweat was fairly limited. A wearable device has now been developed that includes four sensors for monitoring sweat more effectively. A team of researchers created a device that produces a detailed, real-time analysis of human perspiration that has applications for personalized diagnostics and physiological monitoring. The wearable needs only a small amount of sweat to get activated, and the researchers are planning to modify the device for other chemicals as well. 

The Future of Wearables

The challenge that remains with most wearable devices is linked to their static analytic capabilities. At the moment, they are very good at collecting information. However, data analytics by themselves are not enough to expand the clinical applications of these devices. The next step in wearables is to use data in a proactive way, evolving past simply passively collecting information. When we see wearables able to actually alter specific conditions, this will be an indicator that we are getting closer to realizing the full potential this type of technology has in improving our well-being.

Sources:

Orrin Devinsky MD talks about SUDEP. http://www.epilepsy.com/learn/impact/mortality/sudep

Fox Insight Wearables: a Virtual Research Study. https://www.michaeljfox.org/fox-insight-form.html

Michael J Fox Foundation backs wearable device trial. http://www.pmlive.com/pharma_news/michael_j_fox_foundation_backs_wearable_device_trial_in_parkinsons_901537

Alphabet Inc: Google Diversifies Into Health With ‘Smart Lenses’ Patent. http://investorplace.com/2016/05/goog-googl-smart-lenses

New wearable device analyses sweat to detect health problems. http://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-01-28/new-wearable-device-measures-sweat-to-track-your-health/7118234

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