Consumers Try On Wearable Technology

The potential for medical devices to improve our physical health is driving technology to explore how your brain and body can link with external devices. 

Judging by the increasing popularity of wearable devices like Fitbit, Jawbone and others, American consumers are hungry for real-time information about their personal health and fitness. Access to data you can store, track and share immediately with your healthcare providers – both near and far – can be a helpful tool in taking control over your own wellness.

The potential for medical devices to improve physical health is driving the boom in development of technology to explore how brain and body can link with external devices. From the perspective of the medical device industry, the key is to provide you with a higher level of interaction with your personal healthcare, and the ability to enhance your quality of life and care.

Medical devices on the rise
The medical devices industry, which was valued around $20 billion in 2015, is expected to reach $70 billion by 2025, according to research organization IDTechEx. One factor driving that growth is the relatively large number of aging baby boomers in America. This population, which numbered 50.2 million in 2014, is projected to increase to 55 million by 2020, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Compared with previous generations, boomers have a greater interest in managing their care and they’re also becoming increasingly accustomed to having technology at their fingertips.

Segments of the medical devices industry are currently developing or commoditizing products and technologies that address different health- and medical-related issues.
Wearable electronics, such as the Fitbit wristband or the Apple watch, use a technology that provides sensor and data capture for visual or external monitoring, which can be accessed by the wearer and his or her doctors. Most of these devices, which can be used for heart rate monitoring, weight loss, sleep issues and stress, can transmit the data to smart phones and apps.

E-textiles are another developing technology, one that looks at the ability to provide wearable, stretchable, flexible electronics that are moisture resistant and are fully incorporated into the clothing itself. The clothing includes sensors, circuitry, battery configurations and the ability to interface with external devices. Athletic wear companies like Adidas and Nike are also developing or introducing smart shoes with built-in fitness tracking. Textronics, a wearable electronics designer and developer, launched a line of sportswear as early as 2006 that uses embedded sensors and circuitry for heart rate monitoring while a customer is working out. Conductive and resistive inks printed on flexible substrates, coated thread technologies and nano-scale laser technologies have enabled new product research and development in this area.

Wearable headsets with sensors for brain EEG signals are currently used to monitor focus, stress, mental commands, and a similar interface for external devices is under development. One area of major interest is in the use of mental EEG signals to control a prosthetic device.  Since 1.9 million Americans currently have a form of limb loss, with 500 added every day, this could have a significant impact. Affordable, easy-to-use devices in this area could dramatically improve their quality of life.

Smart eye contacts are another product in the works, with a demand driven in part by the eye issues often experienced by diabetes sufferers. In 2012, more than 29 million Americans, or 9.3 percent of the population, had diabetes. Among those 65 and over, the number is even higher, representing 25.9 percent of the population. In this area, the medical device industry looks to embed microelectronics into the contact itself to provide ways to automatically enhance vision, or to use microsensors to measure glucose levels and transmit data to other diabetes care tools.

Poor vision affects even more people than diabetes, with 75 percent of adults requiring some sort of vision correction, according to the Vision Counsel of America. Both of these areas represent a huge potential market demand.

Marketplace trends
Rapidly advancing technology is driving the development of new products that take advantage of wireless connectivity, portability and the ability of remote monitoring to facilitate early detection and prevention of conditions and diseases. For consumers, demand is likely to increase as they become increasingly accustomed to new interactions with technology within their daily activities.

For the industry, medical device companies will need to ensure the quality of the interaction in order to succeed with consumers, while also addressing the challenges of battery life and cost-to-market.

This increased demand will heighten pressure on medical device developers to create additional and better products. To help meet the larger workload, many choose to partner with EASi, which offers many levels of engineering services solutions to support, design, produce and test the products that one day will be standard.

Technology makes one consider how far the industry has come and how far it can go. It certainly has the potential to have a dramatic impact on our lives, as well as those of our loved ones.

Sources: IDTechEx Wearable Technology 2015-2025: Technologies, Markets, and Forecasts by Dr. Peter Harrop, James Hayward, Raghu Das and Glyn Holland; American Diabetes Association; Vision Counsel of America