The resounding success of health-promoting smart gadgets for private use has been outshone by another no less important development: Wearables are steadily advancing into many fields of professional healthcare. They are essential to the digital revolution that is also changing the field of medicine. A development that visitors to the world'' largest medical trade fair - the MEDICA in Düsseldorf with more than 5,000 exhibitors - will be able to experience for themselves in November. The MEDICA CONNECTED HEALTHCARE FORUM in Hall 15, which will be dedicating special sessions to the field of wearables is going to be the hotspot for everybody who is interested in the topic, specifically on Monday, 13 November, from 11.00 a.m. to 2.00 p.m., and Tuesday, 14 November, from 2.00 to 5.00 p.m. The Wearable Technologies Show (also in Hall 15) will additionally be offering an overview of exciting new developments. This is where both prototypes and research projects are going to be presented in addition to products that are already heading for the market.
"Wearables represent one of the major enablers of digitisation in healthcare," says Christian Stammel, Founder and CEO of WT Wearable Technologies Group. The wearables that are finding employment in the health sector are more than just fitness trackers strapped to the wrist. There are many applications that have been very successful for decades - even if they were not previously called wearables: "We define all electronic components that are worn on the body, close to the body or in the body as wearables," explains Stammel. It is a definition that also covers pacemakers and hearing aids as well as smart implants.
Wearables are already having an impact on new treatment methods and are creating new methods of diagnosis, monitoring and medication across all aspects of medical care - from prevention and inpatient and outpatient care to rehabilitation. The spectrum ranges from intelligent plasters for measuring blood-sugar levels, such as the product already implemented by Abbott, through patches that deliver the individually required quantity of drugs to intelligent pills that are able to monitor the correct drug administration. A sensor in the form of a pill by Proteus Medical, for instance, enables physicians to track when patients have taken their medicines. Adherence to required therapies is one of the factors that are decisive to the success of drug treatments. The ‘mylife OmniPod’ insulin-management system also represents a new type of insulin-pump therapy. The eponymous pod is applied directly to the skin - without annoying tubes between the pod and the ‘personal diabetes manager’. This provides the people using it with more freedom in their everyday lives.
The wide range of different applications demonstrates that: Wearables have become an everyday item
Stammel says that wearables are available for cardiovascular diseases, diabetes and asthma and that they make life much easier for patients and provide physicians with lots more information about their conditions than conventional methods. The session that will be taking place at the MEDICA CONNECTED HEALTHCARE FORUM from 2.00 to 5.00 p.m. on the Tuesday (14 November) will be focusing on wearables to help with chronic illnesses and to support people facing special mobility challenges (e.g. people who have suffered strokes). Bioservo will be taking this opportunity that the Wearable Technologies Show will be presenting to demonstrate its training glove for stroke patients.
The glove uses motion sensors and robotic support to amplify the wearer's movement impulses. Wearing the glove regularly will not only improve the perception of touch stimuli but also voluntary motility, e.g. grasping. It is not far from robotic gloves to exoskeletons that promise even greater benefits in mobilisation therapy. FreeBionics, for instance, is hoping that its 'Free Walk' system will help restore mobility to people suffering from temporary or chronic restrictions to movement.
The monitoring of vital data is central to helping people who are suffering from chronic and acute illnesses. This is where wearables can deliver optimum solutions for monitoring almost any type of complaint at home or in clinics. The Biovotion start-up, for example, has created an arm cuff that continuously captures medically relevant data and makes it available to the treating physicians through a 'cloud' solution. Precisely tailored wearables are also available for specific diseases including Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, asthma, cardiovascular diseases and diabetes as are new options for monitoring newborns and pregnant women.
The market for medical wearables is growing rapidly
The scope of application options that the MEDICA 2017 will be focusing on and that are to be presented there also constitutes an indication of the continuously growing demand. "The market for wearables is growing rapidly. More than 150 million wearable products were sold across the world last year," says Stammel. It is a market that will have doubled by 2020. Initial forecasts are assuming that 400 million wearables will be sold in 2020. A good 50% of this figure will be medical wearables. The market for smart patches in particular will probably make up a very high share of the market. Gerd Bueschel, OEM Manager at Covestro, will be presenting insights into the topic during his talk at the MEDICA CONNECTED HEALTHCARE FORUM on 14 November, which will be entitled: "Soft Embedding of Electronics and Skin Friendly Fixation of Materials & Technology".
Advancing miniaturisation is also going to deliver solutions for medical monitoring that are increasingly small and more pleasant for patients to use. "Medical wearables are being increasingly developed in the form of smart patches and will so enable patients to use long-term monitoring products and even receive medication in such a way that is almost invisible to others," says Christian Stammel looking forward. This means that wearables could make treatment significantly easier and less stigmatic for patients.
Wearables - a challenge for licensing authorities
So wearables are opening up prospects that are highly promising for both users and suppliers. But they are also presenting many challenges that need to be tackled before their introduction to the market. These include medical licensing, interfacing aspects, data interoperability and data protection. This requires: "Medical licensing authorities across the world will need to respond to increasing demands and are indeed gradually adapting to their new tasks," Stammel reports. Digitisation represents a great overall challenge for licensing authorities, Stammel continues: "Just for the sheer size of its health market, Germany is a country that is attracting lots of attention from manufacturers of medical products here."
Wearables for inpatients
"There are many innovations in the field of wearables for inpatients," says Stammel. The bandwidth of applications ranges from the monitoring of bedsores through patch sensors to the tracking of vital data. But wearables would initially play a more subordinate role from the point of view of a clinic: "The existing medical infrastructure will slow down the introduction of wearables here. But wearables would probably deliver great benefits to outpatient care following hospital treatment."
Wearables for outpatient care
It would be particularly advantageous for doctors' practices to start thinking about the topic of improving patient assessments with the help of wearables. Stammel explains: "The first health-monitoring devices that have also been officially certified - e.g. ‘Philips Health Watch' - have simplified the use of wearables as reliable indicators." The device captures such vital data as heart frequencies and will also track movement, sitting and sleeping behaviour and does so without the need for an additional chest strap. The data are stored in the cloud in compliance with data-protection guidelines and may then be shared with physicians and medical experts if necessary. Stammel thinks that the use of wearables will in the near future become a performance feature for high-quality medical practices: "Physicians should be familiar with the products that are already available today for diabetes patients and be aware of the benefits to medical treatment and the patients' quality of life so that they can prescribe such products."
Start-ups are facilitating digitisation in healthcare
Creative start-ups are playing an important role in the digitisation of healthcare and particularly in the field of wearables. A special 'platform' is going to be dedicated to such players for the first time at the MEDICA 2017 with the new MEDICA START-UP PARK. Up to 40 start-ups are going to laying out their wares over a total area of 500 square metres in Hall 15. "The company founders and their small teams of developers are simply bubbling with ideas. What they need is a boost. That is why the MEDICA will be matching them up with potential business partners, investors and sales partners from around the world," says Dr Claudio Bucchi, the MEDICA team's trend scout and the project manager responsible for the MEDICA START-UP PARK.
Everybody must pull together to succeed
So there are many innovations with the potential to advance the digitisation of healthcare for the good of patients. And proper information for all those involved is essential to ensuring that patients do actually benefit from progress being made in the fields of medicine. Patients are already embracing the digital revolution. A recent survey by Deloitte and Bitkom revealed that more than 90% of respondents are sharing their health data from their mobile devices with their physicians. And how are physicians responding? "It is up to the medical profession to openly explore the new opportunities that are being opened up by digital innovations and to indicate their interest to the established suppliers of medical infrastructure solutions for practices and clinics," says Christian Stammel clearly. The MEDICA 2017 will be the place for all professionals working in the health sector to bring themselves up to date.
The international MEDICA CONNECTED HEALTHCARE FORUM in Hall 15 will throughout the day be providing insights into the full range of relevant digital developments that are destined to fundamentally change the world of healthcare across all its sectors. Here, wearables will not only become an important aspect of the Internet of things but also and especially of medical care in general.
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