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Wearables: the tangible product of the patient revolution

As the relationship between the patient and his doctor evolve, we look at how new technology is playing its part


Once the dreams of science fiction writers, the era of health and fitness trackers are now a reality.

Small, easy-to-use devices that can fit around your wrist are set to become major earners, with the world's biggest technology companies all getting in on the act.   
The launch of Apple's first 'smart watch' in April is set to herald a new era in the so-called 'wearables' sector.

Apple is by no means the first company to create a digital watch that can measure health outcomes as there have been a number of similar watches and wrist-bands - such as those from FitBit, Samsung and Nike – being launched over the past three years.

Apple's push into this embryonic market, coupled with the company's growing focus on health, is set to ignite what has so far been a muted uptake of these products.

Apple's watch may be grabbing all the headlines, but more important was the rather quieter announcement from the US technology firm last month - the creation of a new research tool linked to its iPhone software.

The ResearchKit software platform will be able to draw medical data from millions of its customers - with their consent - in what will be a major boost for real-world data researchers.

ResearchKit will work much like other health-tracking technology tools that can generate reams of data on people's health and activity levels.

Apple will have far greater reach than these firms, however, given its large smartphone market share and brand following.

The latest release builds on the company's HealthKit software, now an integral part of the iOS8 platform, which can track steps taken, weight, body fat and other health-related data, and was released in September last year with its new iPhone 6 range.

But the user must add most of the data into his device - ResearchKit will go one step further in its diagnostic capabilities, something currently lacking in HealthKit.

Exact details remain vague, but Apple said in a statement that researchers would be able to ask for access to the accelerometer, microphone, gyroscope and GPS sensors in the iPhone “to gain insight into a patient's gait, motor impairment, fitness, speech and memory”.

Apple will also use a cross-platform approach and use separate devices made by other companies that will allow the iPhone to also gather information. This includes data on glucose levels and asthma inhaler use, all of which should help to build a more sophisticated, data-driven diagnostic tool.

Apple Watch will help boost the wearables market

One example of an external party creating an app is that of mPower, which measures hand tremors as a test for Parkinson's Disease.

Apple is not only firm also pushing into the ability of its existing products to become new health-based devices. Google, its arch rival in the tech sector, is also looking to make health a major priority for its business, and it made its intentions clear with the 2013 creation of Calico.

This healthcare-focused division of the firm works in tandem with its experimental Google X laboratories, and already has deals with numerous life science groups.

This includes one trial with its Google Glass device to help patients with Parkinson's - it is also working with Novartis to develop a 'smart lens' to help measure diabetes patients' sugar levels through their tears.

Data tracking, doctors and the patient
The aim of these new devices is not to merely create a luxury product that has little practical use (although starting at around £300 and requiring a new version of the firm's iPhone that costs around double this price, the Apple Watch as an example is certainly not cheap).

Instead, these tech firms have identified the needs of life science firms, as well as doctors and patients, and their desire to have better and faster access to data for individuals, as well as helping to paint a more accurate picture of entire health populations on a big data scale.

The opportunity is massive - in the public health arena, there exists the possibility that outbreaks of diseases such as Ebola or influenza could be seen and stopped before they become critical.

For private healthcare firms, reliable big data analyses can better track their medicines and devices in the real world, and see if a new drug is lowering blood sugar levels for the majority of diabetes patients in England, for example, or whether outcomes are less than expected in Polish males than in Thai females.

This will also translate into doctors having a better understanding of each individual patient, as well as being able to see a clearer picture of the entire health of a nation, as well as the local populace, and potentially be able to plot the best healthcare plans for patients based on this data.

This all rides on the success, or otherwise, of firms like Apple and Samsung in getting as many people as possible involved in its big data projects. But every evolution must have a starting point, and 2015 is the year when new technology has caught up with healthcare demand. 

Article by
Ben Adams

PMGroup editor

24th June 2015

Article by
Ben Adams

PMGroup editor

24th June 2015

From: Healthcare



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