Health and fitness wearable devices are a trend this year and are expected to quickly grow in the next few years. The growth of wearable technology market is promising but the estimates vary from different analyst firms. Berg Insight estimates that there will be 64 million worldwide shipments by 2017, Juniper Research reveals 130 million shipments by 2018, and ABI Research mentions an even higher estimate of 485 million global shipments by 2018. The global wearable technology market was $750 million in 2012 and is believed it will reach $5.8 billion in 2018. North America is expected to maintain 43% of revenue share in 2018 followed by Europe.
What are Wearable Health Devices?
Wearable devices are electronics or computers that can be worn as accessories or clothing on a person’s body. These devices have features similar to mobile phones, tablets, and laptops. Wearable technology, especially devices focusing on health, are more advanced than other hand-held devices in the market today. They can offer scanning and sensory components to track physiological function such as blood pressure or heart rate. In addition to these features, wearable devices can notify users of phone calls and text messages. Data can also be inputted and stored. Wearable health devices are available in several forms and include watches, wristbands, earphones, or clothing. They can connect to mobile devices through applications.
Wearable Devices and Telehealth
Wearable health technology falls under the much larger picture of telehealth. Telehealth uses electronic information and technologies to support and provide health care across distances. The future of telehealth relies on the development of new technologies in maintaining health and wearable devices seem promising. The idea behind wearable health technology is to incorporate functional and portable devices into every day lives. Individuals that use these wearable devices are aware of their lifestyle which helps motivate them to maintain, track, and improve their overall health. They can also be more proactive in addressing their medical conditions by having more access to care and connecting with their health care providers. This technology facilitates delivery of care and can ultimately lower health care costs. Certain mobile applications can provide health care professionals and patients with medical records, lab test results, as well as reference materials.
Examples of Wearable Health Devices
Ambulatory Blood Pressure Monitor by iHealth
(Image courtesy of iMedicalApps)
Last month, iHealth revealed the first wearable blood pressure monitor. The monitor is worn inside a vest and can either be connected to the user’s mobile phone through Bluetooth or to a computer through a USB cable. It is compatible with iOS and Android devices. The monitor provides continuous blood pressure monitoring and can be set to read at specific time intervals. This is useful for individuals who experience resistant hypertension (blood pressure that remains high even with antihypertensive medications), nocturnal hypertension (high blood pressure during sleep), or white-coat syndrome (high blood pressure during doctor office visits). It also gives health care providers a better understanding of an individual’s blood pressure changes throughout the day. The FDA has not yet approved this device. IHealth has not announced a price and plans to release this product sometime in the last half of 2014.
Wireless Ambulatory Electrocardiogram (ECG) by iHealth
(Image courtesy of iMedicalApps)
IHealth has also revealed the first wearable wireless ECG. This device attaches to the user’s chest and is worn underneath clothing. It continuously monitors heart activity and data is transferred to the user’s mobile phone through Bluetooth or to a computer through a USB cable. This is useful to test individuals for arrhythmias (irregular heart rhythms). The FDA has not yet approved this device. IHealth has not announced a price and plans to release this product sometime in the last half of 2014.
Lifeband Touch and Heart Rate Monitor Earphones by LG
(Image courtesy of LG)
(Image courtesy of LG)
For fitness fanatics, LG unveiled its Lifeband Touch and Heart Rate Monitor Earphones. The Lifeband Touch is worn on the user’s wrist and has an OLED (organic light-emitting diode) display screen that will light up once the user lifts his or her arm to look at it. It displays speed, calories, altitude readings, 3-axis accelerometer (measures acceleration forward, backward, and side-to-side), GPS data, real-time heart rate, who is calling, and music. It can be used with the Heart Rate Monitor Earphones which tracks heart rate and oxygen consumption while listening to music at the same time. Both of these devices are compatible with iOS, Android, and Galaxy S4. LG expects to release both devices during the first half of 2014 for $179.99.
Fitness Socks by Heapsylon
(Image courtesy of Heapsylon)
For the runners out there, Heapsylon has introduced fitness socks to its Sensoria smart clothing line. These socks are paired with a detachable anklet that tracks speed, calories, steps, altitude, distance, cadence (how many times your feet touch the ground), foot landing technique, and weight distribution as the user walks or runs. Sensoria fitness socks can help determine injury-prone running styles such as heel striking or over-pronating (foot rolls in too much). The mobile app coaches runners with audio cues and helps them improve performance as well as decrease injury-prone movements. Data is collected and transferred to the user’s mobile phone through Bluetooth. They are compatible with iOS, Android, and Windows Phone 8. Sensoria fitness socks can be pre-ordered at sensoriafitness.com and will not be available until March 2014. The Sensoria fitness socks bundle (four pairs of socks, one anklet, charger, and mobile app) is priced for $199.
Baby Monitor by Mimo
(Image courtesy of Mimo)
Wearable devices are also made for infants. Mimo has revealed its smart baby monitor. The organic cotton kimono has machine-washable sensors that monitor the baby’s breathing. When used with the turtle monitor, the baby’s temperature, movements, body position, and sleep can also be measured. Data is transferred to the lilypad base station through Bluetooth, which connects the turtle to the user’s mobile phone through WiFi or data (3G, 4G, LTE) connections. It is compatible with iOS and Android. With the mobile app, parents are able to see real-time data, listen to their babies, and see trends in sleep. Parents will also be alerted if anything happens such as pauses in breathing or if the baby is awake. The turtle monitor is waterproof, big enough to not be a choking hazard, and chew-safe. These wearable devices can be pre-ordered at toysrus.com and will not be available until March 2014. The Mimo starter package (3 kimonos, 1 lilypad base station, and 1 turtle) is priced for $199.99.
Other Expected Wearable Devices
Other wearable devices that are expected to come out in the future may be geared towards the elderly. With the aging population, wearable devices can offer home health monitoring that can detect falls, provide location, and send alerts to family members or caregivers. Pets can also wear devices that track their vital signs, activity levels, and calories burned.
Social and Legal Barriers
Wearable device may encounter social and legal barriers. Devices that contain a camera may run into privacy issues because they have the ability to film at all times. Health care wearables may raise confidentiality issues due to the storage of personal health information. As more products come into the market, regulations may be introduced to address the concerns of privacy and data protection.
Health and fitness wearable devices are trending in the technology market. More companies are revealing products that are practical for everyday use and wearable technology is expected to grow in the next several years. Incorporating these devices in health care, especailly telehealth, can help decrease costs and improve access to care. They empower individuals to be more proactive about their health. It is important for consumers to understand that many of these wearable devices do not diagnose, prevent, or treat medical conditions. It is best to seek advice from health care providers before making changes to recommended treatments.
Reed, B. (2013). Wearable computer shipments seen hitting 64 million in 2017.
Juniper Research. (2013). Press release: mobile smart wearable device shipments to approach 130 million by 2018, Juniper Research finds.
PRWeb. (2014). Global wearable technology market research report 2018.
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