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Wearables Blog Part 8: Future of wearables for health monitoring Part 2

Monday, January 18, 2016
Chaloner Chute - Digital Health & Care Institute

This is the second of two blog posts in a series considering the future of wearables for health monitoring.

To date much of the activity in this space is focused on relatively cosmetic lifestyle wearables, almost all of which are wrist worn and track a typical range of activity metrics.

There seem to be two emerging trends in this area – both focused on making the technology tracking our lifestyles less obvious to the naked eye and less effort to maintain.

  1. ‘Invisible Tech’ – sees wearables getting smarter, smaller and less visible, but not necessarily any less intrusive.
  2. ‘Smart Environments’ – paradoxically a lot of the desired benefits associated with wearable technology may be delivered by smart environments, not worn technology, now that the technology frontier has moved beyond analogue telecare systems.

We discussed ‘Invisible Tech' last month. An interesting article just came out this week that builds on a few of the trends around ingestible sensors we highlighted.

This month’s post will primarily discuss ‘Smart Environments’.

This last week has seen O2 make a major move into this market, launching a smart home platform capable of running central heating, home security and energy management under a single internet-based platform.

There is a repeating pattern in the digital health landscape, and it is certainly present in the ‘smart environment’ or ‘smart home’ space. As with O2, most of the activity in these areas is heavily based on convenience and automation of general tasks. For example smart TVs, heating systems, fridges, etc. The issue is that very few have been able to turn these sorts of capabilities towards health and care, with telecare monitoring of the elderly being the main focus – but one that is moving forward slowly. Fewer yet can then demonstrate what the new care model based on these technologies looks like. For example Smart Weighing Scales have made it easier to weigh yourself and take a longer term view of your weight trend. However this does not yet power any possible service offering.

Why is this relevant for the wearables space? A few reasons:

  1. A lot of the Smart Environment capability overlaps with home based activity – particularly movement and activity tracking.
  2. Many people are working in either wearables or smart environment without seeing the other area clearly. So if a health or care organisation decides it wants to help someone frail stay independent, they might immediately conflate ‘independent’ with ‘home’ and retrofit the person’s home with sensors. This either confines the person to their home or becomes useless the minute they go outside.
  3. The more functionality you want in a wearable the more battery capability it will need, and the bigger it will get or the more frequently it will need to be charged. So we can either fit someone with something large enough to be intrusive and clumsy, effecting their quality of life, or we can expect them to charge it daily or weekly – which can be challenging for some of the more vulnerable groups we would like to support with these tools.

What will this look like?

Initiatives to implement technology based services for health benefits always struggle with recruitment and retention of participants. DHI can attest to the difficulty of getting a demonstration of the technology completed, let alone turning that into a continuous alternative service. Moving forward it is likely that services will need to understand the individual’s experience and their context, and offer a suite of options, supported by multiple technologies – both wearable and smart environment. This can allow for tailoring – essential to improving uptake and retention.

So for example if someone is too active outside of the home then the home sensor retrofit may be considered inappropriate. However if they were being considered for support then their need doesn’t just disappear. That same person may be fitted with a wearable of some kind. This requires weekly charging and the user to remember to wear it – massive issues if you are targeting a frail population. So your second string idea is out of the window. At this point the interplay between Smart Environments and Wearables starts to take on new significance – the smarter the environment, the less power / capability the wearable will need.


Take the Smart Weighing Scale example. What if you could as a consumer, could subscribe (or as a GP prescribe patients) to a service that inserts your scale’s measured weight trends into your digital health record. What if that service set thresholds with you, that if you cross, it would trigger an alert to your GP? Some would say this is intrusive, but would certainly help us become more proactive and preventative.

What if this then prompted the GP to intervene with a prescription for a second level technology supported health and wellbeing service. You can choose your wearable, topping up with your own money to get something fancier if you wish. Again thresholds are set, only involving healthcare if you really struggle, with the subscription service coaching you through weight management and broader health and wellbeing goals.

Then you struggle to keep your wearable charged, or keep forgetting to take it off charge and put it on. At this point that service provider may be commissioned to install smart Wi-Fi capability in your home. This is based on a technology that allows your home Wi-Fi system to pick up your movements within the home. This tracking could mean your wearable powers down in the home, significantly extending battery life and helping with longer term compliance from the user.

We are now at the point where we have many of the technology capabilities for these sorts of Smart services ready – now we just need to get creative and focus on how the care model can evolve.

The above is entirely hypothetical, but DHI would welcome to progress any similar thoughts or proposals if you bring them forward!

Thanks for reading



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