The Rise of Medical Wearables During COVID-19

Sam Sattel
Sam Sattel December 30, 2020 5 min read
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It’s no secret that that 2020’s COVID-19 pandemic has altered many aspects of everyday life. From understanding how germs spread to adapting to work from home technologies, 2020 has seen many changes across various industries. In the case of medical wearables, COVID-19 has instituted various innovations, escalating the pace of technology even more. In this post, we’ll take a look at the different ways medical devices can help us keep track of our health during these unprecedented times.

Monitoring Vitals

Although no bracelet will tell you whether or not a person has contracted COVID-19, wearable devices can track and identify potential symptoms based on accumulated data. Stanford Healthcare Innovation Lab has studied watches and other fitness trackers that evaluate a person’s overall well-being. Although the research is new and ongoing, they may be able to predict a COVID diagnosis based on changes in heart rate. 

Collecting vital signs (heart rate, respiratory rate) is crucial to recognizing symptoms, but many people don’t regularly do that. However, just over 20 percent of Americans wear smart devices that are doing this anyway. If this technology is harnessed correctly, it could help slow the spread of infection with earlier diagnoses, better creating and managing public safety concerns. And, because testing availability and turnaround time have fluctuated, monitoring symptoms via medical wearable technology may be the way to go. The key, doctors say, is learning to understand your baseline–for all illnesses. For an official diagnosis, you’ll still have to get a test, but medical wearables may provide a way to monitor symptoms after a diagnosis or initiate a test early on. 

Remote and Telehealthcare

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COVID-19 brought with it a substantial shift in the way individuals seek medical care. While patients once sat side by side in front offices, they are now using various video chat software, phone calls, and medical wearables to interact with healthcare providers. Although a doctor can’t place a stethoscope to a patient’s chest through a Zoom meeting, they can read the pulse data collected from a smartwatch or grab your temperature from a bracelet they are wearing. 

This monitoring is helpful for occasional health issues but even more crucial and useful for those with chronic diseases or conditions that require fairly constant evaluation. Constant monitoring for people with conditions (like asthma) that may make COVID-19 worse solidifies the increased need for wearable medical technology. 

Company Response

Companies like Apple and Fitbit are undoubtedly interested in meeting the demand for wearable devices, which means they’re likely increasing innovation speed significantly. Apple’s Series 6 watch now measures blood-oxygen saturation, and Fitbit is hard at work on COVID-specific products. 

Apple’s recently announced a new platform called Fitness+, which increases fitness connectivity through workouts created by personal trainers on the Apple Watch, iPhone, iPad, and Apple TV. The platform offers 10 different workout types, including High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT), Strength, Yoga, and Cycling. Fitness + tracks each member’s digital health data so they can monitor their fitness progress.

Due to increased competition and demand, some companies have also lowered prices. Because of this, wearable medical devices are now more accessible for people of differing income levels. People who may not have been encouraged to try such devices are giving them a shot because they are affordable and could be necessary during a pandemic. Overall, this has contributed to significant market growth. 

Will it Work? 

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GlobalData presents reliable evidence that the medical wearable market is growing — from 2019’s $27 billion to $64 billion by 2024. Although the market is growing, will wearable medical devices work to curb COVID-19 or even the inevitable flu season? Ultimately, it is a question of how accurate a device is and whether or not that information can offer better care to a patient or prevent a virus from an exponential spread. 

In theory, wearable medical devices have the potential to support better care for a variety of patients, pointing out conditions beyond COVID-19 — sleep apnea, for example. But doctors must act on this data in their ability to care for patients. The technology is there, but translating it into better patient outcomes could be the real challenge. 

Innovative Medical Wearable Examples

Many leading tech companies in addition to Apple and Fitbit have already been in the health technology space for quite some time. A standout example is Garmin’s Garmin Health range, which has multiple wearable solutions that benefit both the wearer’s wellness and their doctor, clinician, or other medical professionals’ remote patient monitoring needs. Garmin Health gives users access to health metrics and real-time sensor streams. Medical professionals are able to access their clients’ health data and fitness data in order to monitor pre-existing or potential conditions and physical activity levels.

However, one of the most innovative medical wearables out there directly relates to stopping the spread of COVID-19. John A. Rogers, who works as a biomedical engineer at Northwestern University, is among the first of what could be many people developing medical wearables specifically for COVID-19. His patch (about the size of a stamp) is applied to a person’s throat and tracks respiratory systems. The device is small, easy to wear, and comfortable, making it an easy choice for frontline workers and anyone else who is at high risk of contracting COVID-19 or who is likely to suffer more as a result. Roger hopes that the device’s functionality will help track patients who are suffering and shed light on the behavior of the virus itself. The wearable sensor, which is more sensitive than consumer fitness monitors and is superior for COVID-19-specific monitoring, could be a gamechanger.

Given the nature of the innovation, everything has been accelerated, which is a process itself not possible without robust digital tools and communication software like Fusion 360, which allows for the precise 2D and 3D modeling necessary to decrease time-to-market in an industry that relies on speed and accuracy.

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