5 Medical wearables that can improve the health of patients with complex care needs

Up until a couple of years ago, the healthcare wearables market was dominated by fitness trackers. As the technology behind these devices evolved, however, so did the patients’ demands. More than learning about their caloric burn or sleep cycle, patients were asking for wearables that made it easier for them to live with a complex disease such as epilepsy or heart conditions. Thankfully, medical manufacturers listened.

Unlike fitness wearables that use motion trackers, accelerometers, or compasses to measure activity levels, heart rate, and sleep patterns, these new medgadgets rely on a powerful software called software as a medical device (SaMD).  

According to Orthogonal, SaMD systems “can collect and process data from wearable sensors, and detect subtle deviations that might flag important health issues. Using this information, physicians can refine their treatment decisions.”

Here are five examples of wearables that are helping patients with complex care needs to regain control of their health:

  1. Omron’s HeartGuide blood pressure watch

There’s a reason why the new Omron Healthcare blood pressure monitor was honored with the “Best in Show” award for best health device at CES 2019, the world’s largest annual technology innovation show.

Until recently, these complex health conditions required an entire set of costly and time-consuming tests from simple blood tests to electrocardiograms (ECGs) and angiograms. But not anymore.

Here’s how it works:

Designed to be worn as a wrist watch, Omron’s Heart Guide blood pressure helps users prevent and manage heart attacks and strokes. The device is made of tiny pumps and pressure sensors as small as a grain of rice that are able to expose hidden heart conditions by monitoring blood pressure fluctuation.

Using the same technology as medical clinics —  an oscillometric measurement — the watch delivers medically accurate blood pressure readings in as little as 30 seconds.

It also analyzes how sleep patterns affect a patient’s heart health. All the data collected can be wirelessly uploaded into its companion app HeartAdvisor, and later shared with a doctor in the form of a PDF report.

The best part? Omron Healthcare blood pressure monitor is only $499, which is extremely affordable compared to the cost of testing at a healthcare facility. Omron was also recently named one of the best pedometers of 2019.

2. OrCam MyEye

Developed by Amnon Shashua, a computer science professor at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, OrCam MyEye is a wearable device that helps visually impaired people better navigate their environment.

Blindness has serious psychosocial implications. Many visually impaired children and adults are pushed to social isolation, which leads to anxiety, sadness and depression.

OrCam is aiming to change that by enabling these patients to maintain their independence, mobility and freedom.

Here’s how it works:

The device is attached with a tiny magnet to a pair of glasses. The user can simply put the glasses on and point their finger to a desired object, be it a box of cereal in a grocery store or an article in a magazine.

Thanks to complex computer vision algorithms, OrCam will interpret the object or the text and describe it via an in-ear microphone.

The device also remembers regularly encountered faces such as those of friends and family and its money recognition feature makes it easier for impaired people to shop.

3. Empatica’s Embrace2

People with epilepsy live with the constant fear of having a seizure. The patients and their caregivers fear that seizures will cause them brain damage.

A seizure lasts minutes or less, but the anticipation of it can lead to increased anxiety for both the patient and their loved ones. To make matters worse, according to the National Institutes of Health, for almost half of the 3.4 million Americans living with epilepsy, medication doesn’t work to prevent seizures.

A Massachusetts-based company called Empatica is on a mission to help epileptic patients break this vicious cycle of fear with their Embrace2 device.

Here’s how it works:

Approved last year by the FDA, this small wristband uses machine learning technology to measure electrodermal activity and detect epileptic seizures. Embrace2 also alerts caregivers via call or SMS.

The $249 product is already being used in renowned universities, hospitals and charities around the world.  And while it’s aim is to help manage a serious health condition, Embrace2 can double as a stylish accessory, thanks to its sleek, modern design.

In recent years, many scientists have suggested coupling technologies with CBD oil consumption, especially when it comes down to epilectic patients. You can read more about that public debate here.

4. Reveal by Awake Labs
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, about 1 in 59 children has autism spectrum disorder (ASD). One of their biggest challenges is sensory overload.

Overwhelmed by unfamiliar situations, children with ASD often lose control of their emotions and lash out due to this sensory overload

These are not temper tantrums, but rather meltdowns. Temper tantrums are typically associated with naughty behaviour. “Meltdowns,” on the other hand, stem from overwhelm, and can include shouting, screaming, crying or even kicking and biting.

Meltdowns can happen anywhere, at home or in public.

Despite parents’ best efforts, it’s hard for children with ASD to calm down.Thanks to a company called Awake Labs, parents and caregivers of children with ASD  can now prevent meltdowns.

Here’s how it works:

Awake Labs’ new wearable band, Reveal, uses sensors and advanced algorithms to measure and track physiological signals in real time. The Reveal bracelet is designed to send caregivers a one-minute warning before an aggressive outburst. And it does so with an 84 percent accuracy. Reveal is not yet ready for clinical use, but the company is very close to piloting their technology.

5. The AWAK PD device

Kidney failure or end-stage renal disease (ESRD) affects around 650,000 patients per year in the US. Managing ESRD is a full-time job in itself. Patients spend up to five hours, three times a week, strapped to large dialysis machines. But dialysis treatments might soon be performed “on-the-go.”

Earlier this year, the FDA granted Breakthrough Device designation to a device called AWAK Peritoneal Dialysis. The Breakthrough Devices Program is meant to speed up market availability and patient access to novel medical devices.

Here’s how it works:

Created by Singapore-based AWAK Technologies, the device is a wearable dialysis system which effectively purifies the blood of toxins, without the side effect of a regular dialysis treatment. The best part? AWAK Peritoneal Dialysis is designed to be worn around the waist, on a belt, so patients can easily get their treatment from anywhere.

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Medical wearables can’t replace the equipment found in a clinical setting, nor the doctor–patient relationship that is a central part of treatment. Still, these medgadgets are starting to play an increasingly important role in the life of patients with complex care needs.

And with the FDA investing more in the development of digital health applications, we should expect to see wearables for every type of diseases, no matter how complex.

Adam Torkildson