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Woman wearing smart watch with health app.

How Can Wearable Technology Shape Medical Research?

Tags: , , , , | Comments: 0 | January 9th, 2019

Older woman checking wearable technology.

Wearable technology has changed a lot in recent years. FitBit, once an anomaly on the shelves of Best Buys, have now given way to an entire industry of everyday devices that you wear or carry around with you. This is a remarkable breakthrough, as such technologies are bringing the advantages of previously expensive medical equipment to the general public.

One way example of this is in the area of research. Because Apple Watches are so widespread and easy to use, data can be collected easily and with very little recruiting on the part of the researchers.

Wearable Technology Case Study

Nurse with patient wearing wearable technology device.

In a recent trial, published in The American Heart Journal, medical data from more than 419,000 participants was collected. According to Financial Times, this number is “10 times more than is usual in trials,” a phenomenon they ascribe to the data-collecting devices being “already on millions of wrists.”

The trial represents a pretty comprehensive case study of how these technologies could be used in future studies. For the trial, researchers at Stanford Medicine used the optical sensors on the Apple Watch to collect vital signs throughout the day. The trial was interested in data related to atrial fibrillation, and so researchers gravitated toward Apple Watch’s heart-monitoring capabilities. Subjects were recruited for the study through their iPhones, rather than through the usual and incredibly inefficient snail mail or college hallway pin board methods.

Trends in Wearable Technology

Patient wearing wearable technology and taking medicine.

The Financial Times article even points out that the Apple Watch “was recently given clearance by the US Food and Drug Administration for its three heart-monitoring capabilities: heart rate alert, heart rhythm detection, and personal electrocardiogram (ECG) monitor.” Though the article points out that “clearance is a step down from full approval,” but this is absolutely a big step forward for advancing our understanding of persistent and hard to detect conditions like atrial fibrillation, which 130,000 Americans die from each year.

Wearable tech like the Apple Watch 4, which Futurism points out is the world’s “first over-the-counter EKG,” can help solve two old medical research problems at the same time: 1) that physicians and researchers cannot monitor and track the activity of the human body throughout the day, like a medical device can, and 2) that most specialized medical devices are prohibitively expensive. Because the Apple Watch is a cost-efficient, regular-use device, the fact that it can also record vital signs could completely change the type of research that is possible.

For now, wearable tech remains on the fringes of medical research. But that is quickly changing. And now that the FDA has taken notice, who knows what the next year or so will bring?