Medical-grade wearables represent an exciting and dynamic new area for wearable technology. The increasing global prevalence of chronic conditions, such as heart disease and diabetes, are expected to cost the global economy $47 trillion annually by 2030. With the total consumer wearables market estimated to be worth $20 billion by the end of 2018, there is significant opportunity for growth in clinically validated, yet user-friendly wearables to aid individuals manage such ailments or pre-emptively monitor their general health.
Innovation in digital health technology has stimulated exciting new developments and new product releases in medical wearable hardware in recent years, with integrated biometric sensor technology capable of computing a variety of health diagnostics. Such advancements have also opened up the opportunity for such sensors to be integrated into more mass market, non-dedicated consumer products.
Consumer brands such as Fitbit, Garmin, Apple and Samsung continue to invest in the medical wearables space, each pursuing partnerships with medical technology companies and/or within clinical research. In software, WatchOS and Android Wear have both pivoted towards health platforms. Fitbit continues to pursue its repositioning strategy towards medical wearables and healthcare tracking against a backdrop of experiencing six quarters of sales decline since Q4 2016. Fitbit’s expansion into healthcare may be indicative of attempts to offset this decline in sales, whilst building revenue within healthcare related industries such as corporate wellness.
Conditions such as high blood pressure and respiratory disease, each claiming over a billion sufferers worldwide, represent a huge opportunity for wider consumer electronics hardware to identify and potentially manage. Wrist-worn wearables can now identify conditions such as arrythmia, epilepsy and diabetes, in addition to respiratory disorders such as sleep apnoea. Diabetes, with just under half a billion patients, is also receiving attention from wearable tech developers, with the potential for non-invasive, wrist-worn glucose monitoring, a world first. The race is on for electronics brands to bring these medical products to market, firstly by gaining approval from governmental regulatory bodies, followed by attaining trust from consumers.
In the fitness space, infrared technology is being utilised to detect hydration levels and oxygen levels present when worn around the muscles. Pulse oximetry or the level of oxygen present in the blood and VO2 Max are also quickly becoming features within next-generation fitness wearables. We are seeing the likes of Apple take sight of markets dominated by sports focused vendors with fitness expertise. The combination of advancements in hardware sensors, in addition to the ability to process large sets of fitness metrics from the wrist, drives innovation in this sector. Whilst the existing CE giants are evolving their offerings, start-ups are developing new means of tracking our fitness metrics, which could provide significant benefits for both professional and amateur sports training.
Medical advancements, coupled with the increased wrist-worn processing power, the advent of LTE connected wearables and new cloud-based health-care focused platforms are expected to combine to revolutionise healthcare and fitness tracking. Cloud-based healthcare API’s, such as Twine Health and Google Health, will be critical to improving the broader digital health ecosystem through improving the exchange of health information between wearable software and hardware. Such platforms also have the potential to increase interoperability between healthcare providers and patient, allowing for improved and tailored patient outcomes.
One of the largest hurdles for vendors wishing to bring medical consumer devices to market has been the tackling of stringent government regulation. The Food and Drug Association (FDA) aims to reduce this hurdle and stimulate digital health innovation, particularly within the medical wearables space, through the introduction of its new pre-certification procedure aimed at health and medical-grade wearable technology companies. The pre-certification pilot programme, which is expected to roll out in the USA in December 2018, could reduce the time it takes for a company to attain pre-market submission approval by up to 60%.
The future for medical wearables remains complex and uncertain. However, significant interest will remain, with the healthcare industry inching towards implementing medical-grade wearable technology and mass market consume vendors continuing to invest in its research and development. The possibility of combining improved biometric sensor technology, the integration of AI into wearable software, API development and LTE connection into medical wearable technology offers high potential to change how consumers think about personal health and fitness, in addition to offering a potentially highly lucrative new market for CE vendors to explore.