Wearables: The at-home doctor
Sara Urasini, wearables expert at PA Consulting, shares some insights on how the focus of wearables has moved away from tracking one’s fitness while running, to technology that can actively benefit individuals in their daily lives.
The healthcare industry has seen some huge changes in the last decade. Pressure on care systems has led to people adopting a preventative approach, and increasingly treating their health at home. Wearables were one of the first tools to help us gain insight into our personal health data, but much has evolved since the simple smartwatches of the 2010s. Today, the focus of wearables is to not only track our health but to do so in a way that actively benefits us daily, on a expert level.
Wearables such as the Viscero ECG Vest, allow for non-intrusive, non-invasive monitoring of the heart without the aid of a healthcare professional, and help people feel empowered to monitor their well-being daily with a user friendly and preventative solution. With the help of wearables like this, people can now live their everyday lives while preventing and managing different health conditions.
As wearables become more portable and less intrusive, people will be provided with access to the same quality of information and care they received in hospitals and medical practices from the comfort of their homes. Healthcare providers will no longer be the gatekeepers dictating treatment plans and people will gain more control and autonomy over their health and well-being. It will also help save a considerable amount of resources for healthcare professionals and care systems.
In the next few years, is it reasonable to predict that wearables will be sufficiently developed to guarantee high accuracy when it comes to health predictions and diagnoses long before they manifest as serious health conditions. The accessibility to hyper-personalised healthcare for a wider spectrum of patients will be improved alongside actionable data giving people more control over the management of their health. Richer data will also be more readily available, which will help medical professionals and clinicians make more informed and better decisions.
Entrepreneurs and designers are responsible for creating and imagining real human-centred applications of technology rather than just incorporating cutting-edge technology into clothing. Cross-disciplinary talents and skills will be needed to create the next generation of wearable technology, including soft fabrics, hard products, electronic components, UX, UI and system design.
For the mass adoption of wearables to properly take place, the challenge lies in ensuring that devices and systems integrate naturally, flawlessly and unobtrusively into people’s lives, whether that be at work, while exercising or, most crucially, their own homes. This will require a rethinking of the materials used to keep people comfortable while maximising the practicality of the wearables they are using.
When working on the Viscero ECG vest, Design Partners had to deal with a similar problem as traditional Holter vests use what is commonly known as wet electrodes – which rely on a glue-like gel applied to the skin. These can easily slip off during monitoring, requiring healthcare professionals to reapply them. In the Viscero vest, electric ink was printed in a pattern, which combats this slipping challenge by using dry electrodes following necessary compression points during monitoring. In order for wearables to meet the everyday requirements of the general public, designers need to overcome these challenges with innovative thinking.
To accelerate the transition from medical practices to home, and really create better care for patients, wearable technology will need to be designed with a deep understanding of both healthcare professionals and the patient in mind, to develop solutions that be embedded effortlessly into people's everyday lives.