Wearable devices are changing the way we interact with the world, each other, and our health – from smartwatches that track steps and temperature to advanced health-monitoring systems like blood sugar tracking for diabetics or devices that keep tabs on high blood pressure.
Tied to the expansion of the Internet of Things (IoT), the vast networking technology at the forefront of digital innovation, the wearable market is expected to triple in 2019, with over 245 million wearable devices expected to be sold during this year alone, according to a report from CCS Insight. And wearables are particularly flourishing in medical settings.
But the success of these devices in hospitals isn’t possible without reliable Wi-Fi. The rapidly increasing network of hardware now seen in medical facilities depends on a high-quality, high-performance, and properly managed the wireless network. Both understanding wearable trends and the technology’s potential applications are necessary, as well as learning how to maintain networks that are becoming vastly more complex with the proliferation of these devices.
Here are some of the ways wearables are shaping hospital life for both patients and medical providers, and the devices that are leading the charge into the future.
Perhaps the most important innovation that wearables have brought to hospitals is the ability to monitor patients easily and continuously. These devices not only allow for better comprehensive care –with all information accessible and accurate – but new patient monitoring devices are virtually out of sight and mind. Some of the latest developments in this realm are in-body sensors and patches.
A company called VitalConnect is developing a patch that is placed on a patient’s chest and provides all the standard vitals including heart and breath rates, temperature, and more via an app. Called Vital Patch, it provides this data to healthcare providers in real-time. The device utilizes ECG electrodes to gather information and has already been approved for medical use by the FDA.
Other devices can be used to monitor swallowing, sitting, and really almost any patient activity, in or out of the hospital. Often, they’re attached to the body via an adhesive and they’re usually very small. One type of wearable is stuck to the back of an individual’s throat and tracks voice strength, for example.
These devices can detect problems sometimes even before the patient notices something’s wrong. And they’re able to be personalized to specific needs and concerns. As these technologies continue to develop, even more, preventative and life-saving benefits will likely arise.
Virtual reality (VR) headsets are now being integrated into hospitals in a variety of ways, such as doctor training. The Virtual Surgeon, for example, is a program developed by Medical Realities which is designed for VR headsets used by medical students. It allows them to visually experience operations through the eyes of a surgeon, offering real-time, interactive instruction.
Another use of VR is in preparing patients for in-hospital procedures like MRIs. Because children are often afraid of these procedures, a VR app has been developed by King’s College Hospital which aims to prepare kids for MRIs by walking them through the entire visit in a two-minute interactive experience on a VR headset.
Advanced VR headsets are still a fairly new technology but their use will dramatically broaden in the coming years.
A big benefit of wearables in hospitals is the ability to track vitals without all the cords. Everything is going the wireless route, including the complex networks of devices for which hospitals require reliable Internet connections.
Wireless wearables now include digital camera sensors that can track patient vitals and detect the location of these patients. These devices work through advanced signal processing and integration of machine learning technologies. A company called Oxehealth is developing a version of this tech which offers contact-free human activity tracking through these low-cost camera sensors. They can be implemented across the room, so patients aren’t in contact with them at all.
Wearable devices in hospitals aren’t just convenient; they also save a lot of money on healthcare costs. Patients often don’t have to follow up in hospital or doctor visits if their vitals can be tracked virtually.
McKinsey released a report that estimates that digital technologies which replace in-person consultations could reduce inpatient and outpatient healthcare spending by as much as $220 billion. Another study showed that the use of remote monitoring devices reduced follow-up costs for patients by 25 percent.
The aforementioned CCS Insight report showed that smartwatches currently account for 60 percent of the overall wearable market value, and fitness trackers are still the most popular type of device. The Apple Watch is leading that segment, with twice as many people aware of this product than similar models on the market.
Smartwatches already perform many of the functions that this article has discussed, including temperature tracking, heart rate monitoring, fitness tracking, and much more. In hospitals, these watches could be an effective way for physicians to not only engage patients in their health through a popular product, but to also gain much more access to their habits and daily vitals, and provide more comprehensive care.
All of these predictions for the future of the wearable market in hospitals depend upon reliable, high-performing wireless networks within these complex organizations. As the IoT continues to make its way into the medical realm, network managers need to factor in the growing number of wireless devices that will need to be connected at all times – and adapt network management strategies accordingly.
7SIGNAL® is a leader in enterprise Wireless Network Monitoring. The 7SIGNAL platform is a cloud-based Wireless Network Monitoring (WNM) solution that continuously troubleshoots the wireless network for performance issues – maximizing network uptime, device connectivity, and network ROI. The platform was designed for the world’s most innovative organizations, educational institutions, hospitals, and government agencies and is currently deployed at Booz Allen Hamilton, IBM, Kaiser Permanente, Walgreens, Microsoft, and many others. 7SIGNAL continuously monitors the connectivity of over 4 million global devices. Learn more at www.7signal.com.