What does the smartwatch mean for healthcare?

Our resident IT boffin Bill Dunk looks at the smartwatch and its limitless potential to monitor specific health conditions.

Previously we looked at how the smartphone has the potential to revolutionise health care. So let’s take a look at what patients could be wearing on their wrists or attached to their bodies now and in the future to further assist in their health care.

Current Status

There are already dozens of activity trackers available in Australia. They’re the little rubber strap that sometimes look like a watch but usually look like a rubber bracelet, or they clip onto your belt or are incorporated in your training shoes. They talk via bluetooth to your smartphone or computer to pass information on the number of steps taken, the distance you’ve run or walked, how many calories you’ve used, stairs you’ve climbed and how much sleep you’ve had. And they do a fine job of helping to motivate people to be healthier.

We’ve also seen the first generation of smartwatch from companies Samsung, LG, Sony and Pebble which have apps that have most of the current functionality of activity trackers and additionally have apps that can read your email and text messages, help you navigate, check the weather, and a myriad of other activities.

Directly in health care there are devices like the SmartMonitor epilepsy watch (www.smart-monitor. com) that uses a motion detector to monitor for repetitive shaking and can alert the wearers caregiver by text or phone call and records the time and duration of seizures.

The near future

As smartwatches get even more sophisticated and their usage more widespread, they will have a lot to offer in respect to health, allowing health data to be recorded continuously and in a non- stigmatising way.

In addition to the existing smartwatches, without doubt the Apple Watch will redefine the market once it is launched second quarter this year. With Apple’s capability to penetrate new markets and to design easy to use interfaces the device is set to become mainstream very soon. Its combination of a heart rate monitor, GPS and accelerometer will power a new generation of health and fitness apps.

While the monitoring of movement and heart rate has become state of the art in the latest smart watches, the key advantage for the next generation will be access to physiological parameters. There are devices almost here now like the Carunda24 (www.carunda24. com) which bills itself as the ‘Next Generation of Vital and Blood Pressure Measurement’ and can measure blood pressure without a cuff, monitor and store the results and transfer them to an external device for further analysis.

Beyond pulse and blood pressure, additional parameters such as blood glucose levels, nutrition, temperature and an array of other parameters will be able to be monitored. Based on many more data points, therapy can become more proactive, and tailored to a specific patients.

Further down the track

Based on solid monitoring and diagnostics, wearables can be developed to be used directly for therapy.

The tasks are limited only by our imaginations. Currently under development are smartwatches that deliver drugs at the right time and context, apps for specific patient groups like heart patients, people with diabetes or lung issues, epilepsy, physical handicaps, who are blind, deaf, have mental health issues, and so on.
In the future the relatively unobtrusive smartwatch has huge potential benefits for the general health of the population. AMP