How Wearable Technology Can Enhance Healthcare

By R. Siva Kumar - 20 Jan '15 00:14AM

Any small instrument that can be tagged on your hand or wrist, recording your heart rate, calorie intake or distance run are crucial even to the National Health Service's (NHS) health and future, according to UK's medical director, Prof Sir Bruce Keogh.

Like the fitness tracking gadgets that are gaining popularity, as well as others that are like games consoles, patients' health, especially those with serious conditions can be improved, he said, according to

He said that fitness trackers are becoming more and more sophisticated. There are various other devices that measure your heart rate, your respiratory rate, and the amount of excess fluid in your body, recording the complex changes in your physiology. With emerging technology, various parameters can be collected and sent through mobile phones or other methods, enabling health professionals to analyse and work on the signals, Keogh says.

There are some critics of wearable technology, even if they are in the minority. For instance, Kavvi Gupta wrote in forbes: "Don't leave the responsibility of your well being to some fancy device that bleeped and blooped its way into existence. When you rely on technology to improve your well being, you actually end up ignoring routines and habits that in the long run will do incredible damage to your body, and your finances. Oh, you walked your 10,000 steps but ate a hamburger and fries for lunch? Bravo, you're back where you started."

Patients of heart failure, which are among the most usual reasons for hospitalization, would be benefitted by this device. Hence, it would help to relieve the stress on overcrowded hospitals.

Keogh outlined an interesting time in the future, when a patient with a record of a heart attack is sitting at home, with some unobtrusive sensors. His phone then rings, and he gets a message from a health professional who says: 'Mr Smith, we've been monitoring you and we think you're starting to go back into heart failure. Someone's going to be with you in half an hour to give you some diuretics."

Hence, technology is not only a good predictor, but makes us act early and prevent unnecessary admissions. It thus takes a load off the NHS and also helps in the safety of people.

At NHS England's south London headquarters, Keogh feels thrilled that technology can not only prevent disease but also help the future of the NHS. He is confident that people will become more sanguine about using wearable technology. Anyone with diabetes, heart failure, liver disease or asthma will wear devices, skin sensors or even clothes that can find out about deterioration and highlight its importance to patients through mobile phones.

That kind of monitoring will guarantee the safety of people in their homes, rather than just waiting for dropping health, leading to a call for an ambulance or GP call and hospitalization.

He said that a polo shirt can detect the wearer's gait, breathing and heart rate. It has been devised for tennis players, and shows how quickly technology is developing, making such monitoring simple. He recalled a visit to Kent, Surrey and Sussex Academic Health Science Network, where he saw an instrument that looked somewhat like a games console, which is easier for elderly people. It has a little screen that poses questions, such as "are you breathless?", and they just press a button to answer 'yes' or 'no'. Even as they hold the device, it measures the heart rate and transmits the ECG. It can also monitor some subtle changes in the fluid in the body, which indicates impending heart failure.

In a recent eight-month trial last year, on "low intensity telehealth" among 92 inmates of nursing and care homes in Sussex, it was found that they had all the problems associated with old age: congestive heart failure, diabetes, serious breathing problems and urinary tract infections.

Android tablet computers helped the staff to monitor the patients. It was found that matrons received 252 alerts related to heart failure, 181 for breathing problems, 36 for a UTI and 20 for diabetes. Hence, while earlier, there used to be hospitalization, now the early warning system, went on to show a 75% drop in hospitalization.

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