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Monday - December 20, 2021

The Next Challenge: Designing Invisible Wearables

Wearables, intelligent devices worn on the body, have been around long enough that most people understand the benefits they offer for improving both individual and public health & wellness. These devices monitor a growing number of health metrics such as heartrate, breathing, blood oxygen and more, and can use this valuable data to generate a wellness profile. Using advanced sensors and algorithms along with historical data, it is now possible for wearables to provide diagnostic feedback in order to prevent life changing health events. With more available data, medical professionals can make more informed decisions regarding their patients’ health which will lead to a rise in favorable outcomes, lower costs and ultimately, improved patient satisfaction.

How do we now drive adoption in order to collect additional data points? One of the main hurdles to adoption is the obtrusive design of some wearables. Users want a device that is easy to operate, with minimal visibility and impact on their lifestyle. Seamless integration helps facilitate frequent interaction with these intelligent devices which is critical to provide reliable data.

A Case For “Less is More” With Health Wearables

People that stand to gain the most by adopting wearables are elderly individuals and those living with chronic health conditions. Younger generations are embracing the convenience and health awareness benefits of new technology development, while older individuals are hesitant to engage with new devices they may find confusing and obtrusive. This is highly unfortunate as wearables can offer elderly patients and caregivers significant health insights, better medication compliance and increased peace of mind.

When designing wearable devices for the elderly, engineers should consider how to minimize behavioral impacts and simplify user interactions so as to achieve increased adoption and provide more health benefits. A device that “hides” and can work in the background has the best chance of being adopted by this population segment. Doctors and caregivers can monitor elderly patients remotely which can help them identify patterns and prevent future health problems in advance.

Remote Health Monitoring Opportunities With Hidden Health Monitoring Devices

Sensors, batteries, ICs and other components are getting smaller and more compact, and are driving miniaturization trends. Even more intriguing, some devices are able to harvest energy from their environment which eliminates the need for batteries entirely. Devices that need to be charged frequently are an inconvenience and may eventually be forgotten or abandoned. Removing the battery enables wearable devices to operate continually, in the background, allowing users to behave naturally.

A great example of this in action is a smart pill bottle that can actively detect if and when medication is taken. Medication compliance is a huge problem and is not limited to elderly communities. When patients fail to take prescribed medication, it can lead to health complications, more frequent hospital stays, and increased costs to the patient. To prevent this, various startup companies have proposed a smart pill bottle solution. The bottle consists of a sensor that can measure the amount of pills in the bottle and detect each time one is removed along with a WiFi or Bluetooth antenna to wirelessly transmit the data. Caregivers and family members can review the data in real time to determine if a patient missed a dose and can reach out to remind them. This can be especially helpful to patients that are prone to forgetfulness such as those with dementia.

Where Do Health Wearables Go From Here?

Wearables adoption will continue to grow and become a necessary device in our everyday lives. Providing a streamlined user experience is one of the most important factors when designing new devices. Miniaturized components and energy harvesting will be critical to reducing the size of these devices and improving battery life.

Fernando Palarca
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