August 07, 2022
Wearable technology that measures and tracks various physical functions of your body, while relatively new, has actually been around for a few years now. With the latest version of the Apple Watch you can measure your blood oxygen level, check your heart rate, track your sleep, and even take an ECG tracing of your heart anytime and anywhere. The Oura Ring, worn on your finger, just like a piece of fine jewelry. It monitors your sleep, heart rate, activity level and even your temperature, alerting you to the possibility of a problem before you even become aware of it.
These innovative products, and others, continue to evolve and advance at breathtaking speed. Consider the Apple Watch, which was first released in 2015, not as a health monitoring system, but as a fashion accessory! But as Apple added new features that enabled consumers to measure and monitor various aspects of their health, their customers demanded more and Apple delivered.
But just as Apple and Oura continue to evolve, so does the entire wearable technology industry. Some companies are now making a move into clothing, with body nano-sensors embedded directly into the fabric, as devices which are only in contact with a small area of the body such as your wrist or finger, are naturally limited in the amount of data they can pick up.
One such company is Nanowear, which is developing clothing that is designed to be in contact over larger areas of the body such as the chest where it can sense data from the heart, lungs and even the vascular system. Devices such as the Apple Watch and the Oura ring are designed for consumers, and so while their data is generally reliable, clinicians certainly are not going to be making medical decisions for their patients based on an Apple Watch readout.
But Nanowear is developing clinical grade wearables that are designed, constructed, and rigorously tested to bring precise, medical grade data directly to the physician, potentially catching serious conditions while they are at an early more treatable stage and helping to manage ongoing conditions without so many office visits. This may also mean being able to discharge patients from the hospital sooner so they can recover more comfortably at home while at the same time being closely monitored. So these wearables have multiple functions, from diagnostics, to management to monitoring.
If you think about what happens when you go to your healthcare provider’s office, you are very likely to have your blood pressure, temperature, pulse and respiratory rates measured. But all of these individual measurements are just a quick snapshot in time, and may not really reflect an accurate picture of what is going on with your body all the hours you are not in the doctor’s office, especially if you are one of the thousands of people who have what is known as “white coat syndrome,” where the very sight of the medical office is enough to raise your blood pressure.
Ongoing measurements of your physiologic functions, taken unobtrusively while you are going about your normal life and even while you are sleeping, easily overcome these limitations. The other advantages are attractive as well: fewer office visits for those with chronic conditions such as diabetes, the potential to catch diseases early while they are still treatable, or even the ability to alert you to a small rise in temperature, which might signal the beginning of an infectious disease. In this pandemic age, this could become a valuable tool to help slow spread.
Of course, there are privacy concerns with all this monitoring. Who has control of your data? Is it stored safely? What happens if your data gets hacked? Can it be sold? All these are prudent questions as we move as a society deeper and seemingly inevitably into the wearable health technology age.