Three Ways Wearable Tech Will Change Consumer Healthcare

Introducing the Empowered Patient of the Future

The global healthcare industry is at something of a crossroads. The rapid rise of new technologies has given us more power than ever to monitor our bodies and to treat illnesses, but it’s also created a fragmented global industry in which data is rarely shared between providers and patients are left at the whim of insurance companies.

Luckily for us, that’s about to change. New technologies and advances such as the internet of things, big data, artificial intelligence and machine learning are changing the way we think about medicine. Here’s how.

The empowered patient

Wearable devices and fitness trackers, in particular, are giving people more and more access to healthcare data. They can track their heart rate, monitor their exercise and count how many calories have been burned. Big companies like Amazon and Google are getting into the game and Apple recently announced the latest edition of the Apple Watch, which can detect unexpected heart rate spikes and act as an early warning system.

Meanwhile, sleep tracking technology can help to combat insomnia while providing a decent overview of our general health, and all of this technology combined can help people to take control of their health and their lifestyle. Patients can track what they eat using a calorie tracking app, they can integrate that with data from their fitness tracker to factor in the calories that they burned, and they can receive real-time advice that’s based upon their recent activity. As people are given access to more and more data about the way that they live their lives, they’re given more and more of an opportunity to analyze that data and to use it to draw conclusions. Of course, reading the data isn’t enough by itself – you have to act on it, otherwise, it’s useless.

Better than the cure

You’ve probably heard the saying that prevention is better than the cure. That’s never truer than it is when it comes to healthcare, and it’s likely that the healthcare industry of the future will place much more of an emphasis on stopping preventable issues like obesity and diabetes before they become a problem.

This approach could help to cut healthcare costs at a time when they’re spiraling out of control by reducing the burden that individual patients place on the system, but it could also improve the quality of life for hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of people around the world.

The best thing is that this doesn’t require a rethink of the entire healthcare industry, but rather a natural progression in the way that we use technology. In fact, it’s already starting to happen.

Population health data

The best thing about gathering healthcare data is that it can be analyzed in bulk without compromising personal details. For example, if data for thousands of people with a heart murmur could be analyzed, healthcare practitioners could potentially spot new warning signs or identify previously unnoticed commonalities between their lifestyles.

When this starts to happen, it’s good news for everyone. Wearables manufacturers will see an uptake in sales and profits as people start to realize the technology’s potential for saving lives. The healthcare industry and humanity as a whole will be able to take advantage of the new research that it enables.

Conclusion

When it comes to wearable devices and the empowered patient, it’s the wearer who’ll see the most benefit. Global studies are all well and good, but the ultimate benefit will be felt through a personalized approach to healthcare.

Imagine going to your doctor and being able to show him exactly what you’ve been up to since your last visit through the data from your wearable device. Imagine if insurance companies started to offer lower premiums to people who could prove that they worked out.

It’s still early days when it comes to what wearable devices will allow us to do, but it’s pretty clear that they have a lot of potential when it comes to both the way that we live our lives and the way that we monitor our health. It’s an exciting time to be alive.

Wearable Technologies – Pervasive in Today’s World

But what are they all about?

The interface between humans and technology has become indistinguishable over the course of the 21st Century. Technology has seeped into the ways we communicate with one another, interact with the world around us, and complete tasks of daily life – it was only a matter of time before it began to seamlessly integrate itself with fashion.

Wearable tech – an umbrella term that describes smart electronic devices worn on the body as accessories or implants – is flourishing as companies race to make products smaller, more useful, and more aligned with tastes of new markets. From GoPros for adrenalin junkies, the Apple Watch for the working professional, to biometric sensors for patients with chronic health issues – such devices have found a home in every demographic, enhancing and augmenting users’ experiences. Engineering developments such as electroluminescent fibers, sensors, light-emitting diodes, microcontrollers, and thin embedded displays, have elevated the playing field.

170 million devices are predicted to be on the global market by 2017, and wearable technology is poised to be worth $34 billion by 2020. Giants such as Apple, Adidas, Nike, Reebok, Samsung, and Roche, have all jumped in on the action. Wearable tech represents the intersection between digital technology, design, engineering, and fashion – and the possibilities are endless.

Source: CCSInsight

Reinventing how we interact with the old and new

In fact, the relationship between humans and technologies is age-old. What were once wrist watches and Bluetooth headsets have evolved into ‘smart wedding rings’, ‘fitness trackers’, and even ‘digital leashes’, to name a few. Any wearable item, ranging from clothes, glasses, watches, headbands, contact lenses, to jewelry, has the potential to be enhanced with sensors or other electronic components.

But are these simply gimmicks, or will they change what society looks like? Jen Quinland envisions a future wherein sensors in clothing can transmit information to other devices, a future where logic circuits will enhance interaction and connectivity between biometric devices and household appliances. For instance, the detection of a user’s core body and temperature as he or she enters a house could automatically lead to adjustment of the thermostat or the fridge pouring out a glass of water.

Source: https://people.rit.edu/sml2565/iimproject/res/headtotoe.png

What can they do for our health?

Although they have multiple applications across many fields, including gaming, transportation, education, and fashion, it is widely believed that wearable tech has the greatest impact in healthcare, medicine, and fitness. This is largely because the technology allows for the self-tracking of physiological parameters.

There are many reasons for this. The Quantified Self community believes that self-tracking provides information that can help individuals take responsibility for, improve, and manage their own health using quantitative data. Collecting personal data for fun (‘self-knowledge through numbers’), or for more purposeful health goals, has become extremely popular. This objective information about one’s own can be stored privately, or be transferred to a doctor, securely and remotely (known as telemedicine).

Source: https://c1.staticflickr.com/6/5812/22114801851_3e4f89aa95_b.jpg

Diagnostic technologies have long existed in medicine. Integrating sensors which can detect important parameters – such as heart rate, blood pressure, blood oxygen, respiratory rate, respiratory volume, body temperature, calorific burn, and even sleep patterns, into wearables – was a clear, wise, next step. Such devices have now widely proliferated across the consumer market.

The majority of us carry smartphones, a device that holds more processing power than the computers of yesteryear. This is a crucial connection point for data collected by wearable technologies and is the basis for mHealth (mobile health). Thousands of mobile apps that collect and visually display data collected by wearable technologies are available to download. Apple has even developed its own range of devices and an app, collectively packaged as iHealth.

So – imagine fall detection systems that allow you to immediately locate when and where an elderly person has fallen in his or her house. Imagine being able to predict flare-ups of respiratory disease by changes in the movements and respiratory parameters and prevent these before they happen. Imagine using sensors to monitor patients’ postoperative recovery. Imagine all of these techniques applied to understand more about disease outside of the constraints of the research environment, in a patient’s home and daily life. Researchers are even studying the relationship between activity and pain in osteoarthritis using smart watches.

We can expect a future where these gadgets become the norm, and even go unnoticed. With the discovery of new functionalities, the wearable tech movement is on the cusp of exploding.

Breathing Techniques for Stress and Anxiety

Breathing can help center your thoughts and alleviate the effects of chronic stress on your health. 
Source: https://pixabay.com/p-1967892/? no_redirect
Find yourself in a place of calm with tried-and-tested breathing techniques This ancient yogic philosopher combined the meanings of breath and life force into one Sanskrit word – ‘pranayama’. The underpinning wisdom recognized breath as a fundamental anchoring point for life. Outside of its biological function, research has time and time again proved that focusing on our breathing patterns can induce a deep physiological relaxation response, reinforcing the mind-body connection, which is deepened when combined with meditative techniques. Mindfulness has increased in popularity in recent years and combines conscious awareness of breath, perception, and cognition into one meditative system. Breathing techniques widely feature in other practices, including yoga, tai chi, qi gong, progressive muscle relaxation, and guided imagery, to name a few.   Focusing on your breath can provide an important counterbalance to the effects of stress hormones, known as catecholamines, that wreak a number of physiological effects on the body in daily life – compounding into elevations of heart rate, breath rate, blood pressure, and muscle tension. Persistent, chronic, stress provokes a constant ‘fight and flight’ response from your body, posing the greatest threat to modern day peace-of-mind. Deep breathing techniques have long been considered tonics for stress, anxiety, panic, and depression, with benefits reported for mood, blood pressure, and even immunity.   A simple exercise As a starting point, here is a foundational exercise that can be used anywhere. The key to deep breathing is recruiting your diaphragmatic muscles and allowing your lungs to fully expand. This is known as belly or abdominal breathing.
  1. 1. Sit in a comfortable position, placing one hand on your abdomen and the other on your chest. Begin by exhaling gently, emptying your lungs out completely. When you breathe in, you should feel both hands rise and fall with each breath. You can breathe in through your nose and out your mouth, as you find comfortable.
  2. 2. Focus on the length of your breathing in (inspiration) and breathing out (expiration). You can count to 5 during inspiration, hold for 2 seconds, and then count to 5 during expiration. Try to focus your thoughts on your breath. Many find it useful to visualize the four sides of a square whilst counting through these phases.
  3. 3.After doing this for a few breaths, begin breathing out through pursed lips, making a ‘whoosh’ sound through your lips – and feel the tension in your shoulders dissipate.

Caution: It is possible to become lightheaded if you breathe too quickly. If this is the case, slow down your breathing and rise from your seated position slowly.

Square breathing exercise. Source: http://healthblog.uofmhealth.org/wellness-prevention/3-
easy-exercises-for-anxiety-relief-you-can-use-anywhere
     

Heading out for a pedal? Spin harder with simple changes to your breathing

Forget featherweight frames, aerodynamic handlebars, or weight training. The next time you lace up and brace yourself for a jaunt out on your trusty cycle – whether cruising over mountainous terrain or clambering steep tarmac ascents – pay attention to the crucial differences breathing can make to your endurance.

Changes to lung mechanics

Cycling is a unique exercise. Each pedal stroke trains, challenges, and fine-tunes our lungs. By hunching over on our saddles, we compress our thoracic cavity and expiratory muscles, increasing demand on our breathing. The lungs are powerful engines that fuel our body with oxygen, which is combusted by our muscle tissues to release energy. They also help blow off the waste-product carbon dioxide, which turns our blood temporarily acidic during energy production.

Studies of both amateur and professional cyclists under fixed cadences (rotations per minute) reveal profound changes to our breathing physiology during cycling. Oxygen consumption (VO2), tidal volume (a measure of the total volume of lung expansion), and breathing frequency all increase with cycling. Professional cyclists, however, tend to have longer expiratory times at maximal exercise intensities, and the frequency of their breathing tends to increase to a lesser extent. Scientists believe this form of efficient breathing can improve blood flow to leg muscles, as those involved in breathing are thought to compete for blood flow and oxygen.

Breathing might seem automatic and effortless, but is, in fact, a highly dynamic process, and particularly so during exercise. There’s no secret why scientists call it work of breathing. Each time you breathe, you recruit muscles in your diaphragm, which pushes down and increases the available volume in your thoracic cavity, allowing your lungs to expand and draw in air.

This pulls blood into your heart at the same time. At rest, the diaphragm tends to move down by 1 cm. This can increase by up to 10 cm during exercise, and the movement accounts for 70% of your total tidal volume. A lifetime of poor habits can decrease the efficiency of your diaphragmatic muscles – but like any other in your body, these can also be trained.

How can you improve your breathing whilst biking?

Respiratory muscle training (RMT) describes exercises, usually focused on inspiration, that is proven to reduce levels of inspiratory muscle fatigue and increase endurance across a range of sport. In the research environment, this involves repetitive exercises of fast breathing (hyperpnoea) over short, focused periods of 30–40 minutes, or breathing against devices of high resistance (threshold loading).

But such measures aren’t practicable for everybody, and you can start off simply. When off the bike – whether at your desk, in the kitchen, or even in the shower – practice taking slow, deep, belly breaths that help you maximize your lung volume. Take a yoga class, and focus on your breath and pushing your diaphragm downwards. When you next hit the road, try to replicate and maintain this full-bodied breathing style. This mentality can turn exercise into a pleasurable, rather than breathless, pursuit.

At the end of the day, tried-and-tested aerobic endurance training based on principles of increasing aerobic endurance, VO2 max, and lactate threshold, will always have its place in any robust training arsenal. But especially for those competing at high-performance levels, taking a moment to catch your breath can make all the difference.