The future of wearable medical devices

June 20, 2016 // By Neil Oliver
The technological convergence of portable consumer electronics such as smartphones, smart watches and fitness devices with that of professional medical equipment such as pulse oximetry, ECG and Glucose meters as well as ultrasound scanners and kidney diagnostics, is increasingly blurring the lines between equipment designed for practitioners and devices used by consumers.

Your average smartphone now has more processing power than the supercomputers used by NASA circa 1969 when it sent three astronauts to the moon. It's no surprise then, that there has been a growing surge in recent years of start-ups specifically developing peripheral devices to monitor intimate details of one's physical condition.

This trend was highlighted at last year's consumer electronics show (CES), the world's biggest technology exhibition. Held annually in Las Vegas, Nevada, CES was a perfect opportunity for many original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) to exhibit their latest and greatest inventions; from smartwatches that can track your heart rate and sleep quality to armchairs that exercise you in the comfort of your home. There was even a hearing aid developed by Siemens to allow the user to zoom into sounds.

The rise of wearable devices was attributed to a much larger societal disposition towards the Internet of Things (IoT). Although the IoT, as a concept, has been around for many years, it's only recently started to pick up traction. A maturing ecosystem of mobile operating systems (OSs) such as Android and iOS as well as an improving cloud computing infrastructure and the widespread availability of cheap wireless sensors means that OEMs in the consumer electronics sector have glimpsed the profitability of the medical technology (MedTech) sector and they want a piece of the pie.

The ability to create cheap devices that don't require heavy on-board processing, rather outsourcing this to a server in the sky, means that nearly every household object in sight can now be equipped with a sensor and a screen giving up-to-date information on any number of ailments or long term conditions. Diabetics can use a peripheral plug-in gadgets to monitor blood glucose, chronic kidney patients can save time-consuming visits to the doctor by testing at home and patients with a gruelling pill-regime can track their exact intake with a handy smartphone app.