The presence of heavyweights Microsoft and Apple on the nascent wearables market is driving the trend towards these mobile data collectors. ABI Research forecasts a tenfold increase in the market for wearables by 2019, envisioning a bright future not only for fitness freaks, but for medical diagnostic devices and sports sensors as well. Major technology enterprises are even talking about a "revolution in health care" as a result.
So what will this revolution actually look like in practice? The prognoses of health care experts can be broken down into three separate automation phases. Stage 1 has already been partially achieved: Wearables deliver health measurements to the user – for example pulse, sleep habits and body temperature. The user himself is responsible for evaluating this data. He or she can interpret them to determine which factors are influencing their well-being and undertake the necessary corrective steps.
In the second phase, the diagnostic device functions like the alarm system in a car: The user no longer needs to interpret the data himself. The diagnostic device issues an alert as soon as it detects any unexpected results in the wearer’s pulse or blood counts. If no alert is triggered, the wearer can relax.
In the third phase, the measured values are transmitted directly to a doctor. The patient needn’t visit the doctor’s office anymore to undergo a series of tests, but can instead take the measurements himself and transmit these to the appropriate medical specialist.
Developments like these could revolutionize our entire health care system: On the one hand, they will enable 24-hour patient observation, diagnosis and treatment. On the other, the unprecedented abundance of patient data could lead to an optimization of therapeutic techniques and even exact "tailoring", down to the individual patient.
The Cologne-based Central KV health insurer is already taking advantage of mobile technology for medical purposes, equipping diabetes patients with smartphones and blood glucose meters. This way patients can record all the relevant data and transmit them directly to specialists. The most urgent challenge for manufacturers at present is to devise a wearable that can measure a patient’s blood glucose levels noninvasively. This would allow the levels to be measured, recorded and communicated by a single device.
This would all add up to a longer lifespan – that, at least, is the prognosis of the market researchers at Gartner, who commissioned a recent survey on the subject. The findings: wearables which measure medically relevant data could help increase life expectancy by six months in the industrialized nations. As early as 2020 they could moreover reduce diabetes treatment costs by around 10 percent per patient.