New Wearables Positioned For Resurgence As COVID-19 Outbreaks Rise and Fall

  • Posted by Nick Greusel
  • On July 18, 2020

Just a few years ago, fitness trackers and smartwatches were flying off shelves, captivating consumers with the newly democratized capability to track fitness milestones and heart rates. In the intervening time, we’ve gotten used to viewing and analyzing these types of health data. While wearable devices may not seem as exciting as they did in 2016 when the Apple Watch was new and Fitbits were selling like crazy, the market is still growing. With years of experience designing wearable devices for consumer and healthcare markets, Engenious Design is always on the lookout for new wearable technologies, new applications for them, and new markets. The outlook for wearables is undoubtedly changing.

The world—and particularly the healthcare industry—is a very different place than it was a few months ago. The COVID-19 outbreak is revealing previously untapped markets for wearables. Demand in the healthcare market is rapidly increasing for solutions to various problems, including telehealth, early detection of diseases (particularly highly-infectious ones like COVID-19), and contact tracing. In our opinion, these are problems that wearables are well-suited to help solve. Worn directly on the body for up to 24 hours a day, they can gather more long-term biometric data than just about any device outside of a hospital. That data can then be analyzed on the fly by embedded software or stored and uploaded later for analyzation in the cloud or reviewed by healthcare professionals. In addition, wearables enable the accumulation of baseline data giving way to a new class of personalized health alerts and the promise of earlier ailment detection with more specificity.

While sensors and technologies already commonplace in wearables today can be used in new ways to meet these needs, the addition of more specialized sensors will only multiply the wearables’ usefulness.

Wearables to Detect or Control Disease

We assess that the wearable technologies already commonplace in devices can be used in new ways to help control disease.

Today, the major players in the smartwatch and fitness tracker markets (Apple, Fitbit, Garmin, Samsung, etc.) focus on enabling users to track their activity and fitness levels. However, detection and control of disease is a largely untapped segment of the market and is getting a lot more attention during the coronavirus pandemic.

Accelerometers and optical heart rate sensors are widespread in fitness trackers and smartwatches. Leveraging these existing technologies could aid in early detection of disease symptoms like Parkinson’s Disease, or conditions like arrhythmia.

One such example of this is The PKG System, developed by Global Kinetics Corporation. This innovative wearable device “provides continuous, objective, ambulatory assessment of the treatable and disabling symptoms of Parkinson’s disease including tremor, bradykinesia and dyskinesia.”

Bluetooth and location data in phones are already used for proximity detection and contact tracing. Similar data from wearables would be even more useful, as wearables are more likely to always stay with users, instead of being left behind in a car or bag. A wrist-worn device enables higher-fidelity data than a phone in a pocket.

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Wearable-Enabled Telehealth

In addition to disease detection, wearables can play a critical role in a growing telehealth market. Since January 2020, demand for telehealth among US consumers has increased dramatically with 80% growth in the market expected over last year, and up to 73% of survey respondents indicated that they would be comfortable being screened for COVID-19 remotely. The more healthcare professionals can know about a patient’s activity and vital signs, the fewer in-person checkups are required, reducing contact and disease transmission risk in medical facilities.

Finally, the popularity of fitness trackers suggests that pairing wearable medical monitoring devices for consumers with videoconferencing would result in data-enabled telehealth that consumers would welcome.

From Fitness Tracker to Medical Diagnostic Device

Adding some less-common but still widely available sensors to wearables could enable them to automatically detect symptoms of many diseases, including COVID-19: temperature sensors to detect fever, acoustic sensors to detect coughing, or pulse oximetry to detect respiration problems, for example. While these symptoms pertain to infectious disease detection, the rising prevalence of chronic disease means wearables that employ sensors for these and other symptoms will be useful regardless of the global infection climate.

Each new sensor added to a device multiplies the specificity with which it can detect various conditions. With further research and development, dozens of other sensors could be designed or adapted from hospital settings and miniaturized for use in wearables: optical spectrometers for analyzing blood chemistry, chemical and electrical sensors, acoustic and pressure sensors, and more.

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Design the Next Medical Wearable

The market for wearable electronics and biometrics isn’t just about wrist-worn devices for general fitness and wellness anymore. The average person is now more interested than ever in staying safe from transmissible disease and may be open to more specialized wearables for early symptom detection. They’re also more aware of the elevated risk for disease transmission that hospitals and doctors’ offices can pose and want to avoid those environments if there are alternative ways to check-in and share information with their doctor and stay healthy. Wearables are ready to help, and Engenious Design is equipped to help you design yours.

Whether you have only a rough concept for a brand-new product or need help adapting an existing non-medical wearable into an FDA-approved medical device, Engenious can get your product made. Adapting sensor technologies to move them from the controlled environment of a hospital to the unpredictable and rugged environment of a wearable is no small feat of design engineering. Our engineers have years of experience in designing both wearables and medical devices for use in the hospital, the home, and everywhere in between. Wearables intended to diagnose or treat disease fall into the realm of FDA regulation, which can be a hurdle that many companies are hesitant to try to overcome. Engenious’ experience in these design realms uniquely positions us to help you through it.

We’ll guide you through the process of figuring out the correct FDA classification for your device and navigating all the applicable regulations. Let’s connect to discuss how Engenious Design can help you design the next medical wearable.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR(S)

Nick Greusel Website Bio - Senior Mechanical Engineer
Nick Greusel

Nick has worked in product design for the consumer electronics and medical industries for over ten years, leading mechanical development of products from rough concept through mass production. He is passionate about taking a product idea and a sketch and figuring out how to prototype, test, and manufacture it.

Nick has developed products for a wide variety of uses and environments, including healthcare, wearable technology, outdoor sports, marine, and automotive. At Engenious, he has worked on health care products to be used by patients, nurses, and surgeons, from the hospital to the home.

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