Continuing Medical Education News

Wearables Are Revolutionizing Healthcare, Not Just Fitness

Wednesday Sep 23, 2015

By the end of 2015, investors are expected to commit more than $1 billion to wearable technology startup companies, according to a recent market research report.

By the end of 2016, the entire wearable technology market will gross almost $2 billion in revenues.

Some companies, like FitBit and Jawbone, are focusing on wearable health and fitness gadgets as their bread and butter products. Other legacy tech companies like Apple AAPL, Google GOOGL and Intel INTC are making bold plays in healthcare, shaping the market with their considerable influence.

So far, the mainstay of wearable technology has been centered around wearable trackers for consumer fitness. Jawbone and Fitbit built their success on the booming popularity of activity tracking. With increased consumer awareness of the dangers of a sedentary lifestyle, a new demand has emerged for simple, easy-to-use trackers that help people track and measure their personal health goals.

However, with new tech heavyweights entering the market, wearable technology will not be limited to activity tracker wristbands for long. Already, we've seen important advances in sensor technology that allow for less obtrusive tracking. A company called VitalConnect has developed a low-profile plastic patch that can monitor vital signs, while researchers at the University of Illinois have patented a stick on tattoo-like sensor, in which the electronics have been designed to bend, fold and stretch like normal skin.

With sensor technology advancing in leaps and bounds, a growing movement of early stage innovation is rethinking how wearables can change our lives. Yet healthcare is a challenging market for fledgling entrepreneurs. Unlike other industries, healthcare is difficult to navigate due to excess regulations and extended product development timelines. Large established players and young digital health entrepreneurs alike find it challenging to bring new products to the market.

Startups in particular need access to capital, connected networks and ongoing coaching and peer support to make it through all of the dips along the journey. Meanwhile, industry leaders are partnering with emerging companies to innovate. For example, BASIS Science was one of the earliest entrants into the wearable tech field, (Disclosure: It was also a StartUp Health company, which I cofounded) before they were acquired by Intel as part of an effort to keep great technology, talent and innovation flowing through the giant company.

The sky's the limit when it comes to wearable tech in healthcare and potential innovations extend way beyond activity trackers. We're already seeing sensors that improve quality of life, enable home diagnostics, make virtual health and remote monitoring possible, and that's just the tip of the iceberg. For example, Google has teamed up with Novartis on a smart contact lens to the wearer's blood sugar levels.

As I've written about before, the efforts of tech giants like Google, Intel and Apple to develop wearable tech solutions in healthcare speaks to the fact that we are living in a unique moment in history. Today, big data, sensors and connected devices have all converged to allow entrepreneurs to reimagine healthcare from the ground up.

We're already living in a world some call the Internet of Things. This means everything in our world, from our beds to our cars to our refrigerators, is being designed to collect data with the potential to improve quality of life. The future is certain to bring a philosophy around wearable technology that emphasizes innovative novel uses that seamlessly integrates into everyday life in ways that dramatically improve the system of healthcare.