EMDT_European Medical Device Technology

European Medical Device Technology, Spring 2015

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emdt.co.uk European Medical Device Technology Spring 2015 | 29 Getting the Protocol Right The electronics industry has a mixed track record when it comes to compatibility. While this is not necessarily a problem for many con- sumer electronics device types, compatibility problems could impede wearables' adoption. Different communications protocols, for example, would make it difficult for healthcare providers to connect to different devices that patients might wear if a single communica- tions standard is not in place. "Right now, the data that wearables produce are fragmented and often incompatible across devices. In the near term, we are seeing a few companies trying to drive interoperability, but the wearables market still has to go through a 'shake up' in order to figure out which companies will lead the way," Kauffman said. "For all of this to work, not only will the sensors and devices need to 'talk' to each other, but standard protocols need to be developed for the integra- tion of user-generated data into traditional healthcare." Smarter Devices Medical wearables have so far mainly been limited to communicat- ing such information as blood pressure, glucose levels, and ECG data to users' smartphones and other data-collection hubs. How- ever, consumers and their healthcare providers will look for devices that can do more, such as offering deep analysis of data. In order to do that, devices makers will have to make their embedded chipsets smarter for advanced applications that consumers will want. The components inside will also have to become more powerful than they are now in order to better pro- cess the information. "Wearables right now are still a companion device to a smartphone. They do not have the processing power or the visual display to make them fully a 'hub' for all health data analysis and visualization," Kauffman said. "They currently are sensors with some limited visualization. The real horsepower comes from the smartphone, and will likely remain there in the short term." Consumers Must Like Them Medical device makers must also keep in mind that consumers will opt for medical device wearables that will not interfere with their daily lives and that remain discrete. According to a recent study by researchers from the Polytechnic University of Madrid (UPM; Uni- versidad Politecnica de Madrid), for example, patients have a strong preference for wearables that remain hidden from view. Patients also almost invariably prefer using their smartphones to collect data over wearing a bulky data-collecting device attached to their belt. The good news is that companies are developing wearables that are discretely embedded in clothing or accessories such as watches. "Today we are only seeing the emergence of wearables in the simplest form factors," Kauffman said. "In the future, the technol- ogy associated with wearables will be embedded either in traditional brands and other form factors that are not only fitness focused, but are for everyday use, such as compression socks for diabetics with sensors for fluid or flow." Next-gen wearables must thus not only be comfortable, they also must be fashionable, according to Kauffman. "In some cases, the focus right now seems to be on those devices that go on the wrist or hip," he said. "But we can very easily see health wearable earrings, necklaces, clothes, tattoos, etc. having a dual use of health and an individual's expression and style." Wearable, But How Robust? Wearables that are meant to be constantly attached to the body will also need to keep working wherever their user goes, which could be in wet and harsh environmental conditions. However, the jury is still out on how robust wearables will really have to be, since they have yet to experience adoption on a mass scale. Consumers, for example, may be unwilling to pay extra for an ultra-sturdy device, even if it can be worn around the clock. "It is unclear how durability of a device plays a role in the deci- sion process for consumers and is different to [how consumers will expect wearables] to offer richer and more interactive usage of the data and how that data may change their health premiums or provide greater visibly in how to improve aspects of their health," Kauffman said. "Again, we are seeing where more fashionable, and in some cases less durable, options are coming out that consumevrs will be drawn to as well." Bruce Gain is a frequent contributor to EMDT. See us at MEDTEC Europe Stand #7A05

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