Once viewed as a mere technological fad, Wearable Health Devices (WHDs) have cemented themselves in our culture and are even influencing lifestyle as well as behavior. As the wearable tech market continues to grow and mature, it’s poised to revolutionize the interaction between health providers and patients along with preventative care, for better or worse. Therefore, it’s advantageous to understand the benefits and the risks offered by consumer health devices that cling to us 24/7.
Joel Arun Sursas, a Medical Doctor and Health Informatician, works tirelessly to bridge the gap between medical professionals and engineers to improve patient care. In this article, Dr. Sursas provides an overview of how wearable tech has captivated the consumer health market and provides insights into the role it currently plays in the medical field as well as the prospective outlook.
Wearable fitness technology includes electronic devices designed to monitor and collect data of the user’s health metrics such as exercise, heart rate, and sleep patterns, to name just a few. The data is typically obtained via a health sensor and then transferred via a wireless connection where it’s stored on the internet or cloud.
The most common wearable fitness tech available in the consumer market is a wristband or smart health watch that tracks general physical activity, calories burned as well as heart rate. Fitbit is currently the leading brand.
More groundbreaking devices include wearable ECG and blood pressure monitors. The former is capable of measuring an electrocardiogram and digitally transferring the results to the user’s doctor, hence providing insight into any heart abnormalities. The latter device measures blood pressure as it relates to the user’s habits and activities, which can be especially useful for patients who suffer from high blood pressure.
As early as 2002, the miniaturization of sensors coupled with Bluetooth technology and smartphone applications, along with the increasing demand for consumers to monitor their health patterns, propelled this revolutionary tech into the mainstream. Although, it wasn’t until 2014, dubbed “The Year of Wearable Technology,” that the numbers really took off.
Since then, fitness trackers and related wearables such as Fitbit have amounted to approximately 70 million units sold worldwide and are expected to hit 105 million by 2022.
The considerable growth and demand for WHDs do not appear to be waning, and apart from smart advertising, arguably is fueled by the several benefits the tech offers.
Perhaps the most apparent advantage of fitness tech is the ability to monitor vital health signs outside of clinical environments. The modern working adult juggles several activities apart from their profession, which tends to strain time management and typically prohibits the opportunity for extended medical observation.
Furthermore, continuous real-time data collection provides insight into personal habits and behaviors that could be affecting the user’s health. While the data is currently unregulated, it cannot entirely replace the reliability of FDA approved devices administered in a clinical setting. But it does provide a health care professional additional information that can help elevate the long-term health plan for their patients.
Additionally, if properly analyzed, the health metrics could even reveal patterns that predict life-threatening conditions. As a result, vulnerable patients could adopt wearable tech that alerts them when their vitals transform for the worse and thus decrease the risk of a fatal health event.
More than anything else, fitness tech improves the dialogue between doctor and patient. Apart from an annual physical exam or an occasional medical visit due to an ad-hoc cold, many patients aren’t engrossed in their physical wellbeing. However, embracing the benefits and culture of fitness trackers sends a clear signal that they’re plugged into their health. Fitness alerts, coupled with proper guidance from their primary healthcare provider, can empower individuals to be more conscious of choices that may affect their health and encourage them to strive for healthy habits and routines.
Unfortunately, there is too much of a good thing, and negative behavior influenced by wearable fitness tech can result in unfavorable consequences.
One of the unfortunate side effects of modern technology, such as the internet, is self-diagnosing a health problem. Fitness tracker users may analyze their data and succumb to their own hypothesis, which could be detrimental to their health. This attitude could also encourage individuals to wave off doctor visits entirely, thinking their exercise routines influenced by consumer tech alone suffices.
On the other hand, the wearable health device may have the opposite effect of its intended purpose. Instead of encouraging physical activity, the casual user may be happily surprised by the results of their pre-existing bodily habits and forego additional exercise altogether.
Of course, as with any tech that stores information online, data privacy and protection is of great concern. As mentioned early, data sharing between patients and medical professionals could potentially transform healthcare, but if improperly exposed, it could have adverse consequences. Medical records are highly sensitive and are, therefore, confidential. However, without proper security protocols, digital adversaries may acquire hypersensitive information and potentially use it as leverage against individuals. Therefore, consumers should scrutinize new tech as well as company practices, especially where health is concerned, and avoid putting all their eggs in one basket.
Wearable Health Devices, fitness Trackers, whatever term you classify the mechanism as is trending and predicted to expand its influence globally. With the introduction of new sensors and application features, so too will the lifestyles and behaviors of fitness consumers evolve. Although the scales currently tilt in favor of the benefits offered, it’s advisable to proceed with caution to help ensure the tech bolsters instead of inhibits our wellbeing.
About Joel Arun Sursas
Joel Arun Sursas is a Medical Doctor and Health Informatician motivated to solve administrative problems in healthcare. His determination to work tirelessly to bridge the gap between doctors and engineers is resulting in medical technology solutions that improve patient outcomes, enhance monitoring, and protect patient privacy. Dr. Joel Arun Sursas is an effective communicator who facilitates the achievement of team goals.