From the launch of FitBit in late 2009, we've since seen an explosion of various wearables, apps and digital health devices, all using sensors and computing to monitor our daily lives. By tracking a user’s activity, exercise, calorie intake and sleep, these devices help monitor eating and activity habits, and, in turn, influence better lifestyle choices. However, in addition to knowing your daily step count at the push of a button, we are moving beyond simple wrist-based accelerometers. Smartwatches are beginning to implement continuous blood pressure and glucose monitoring. Advancement in disposable vital-sign patches can transmit streaming ECG, posture, temperature and stress data, anywhere there is a mobile-phone signal. Mental-health concerns can be detected from analyzing speech from our smartphones. Vitals and activity of newborns can be tracked through connected onesies or sensor-fitted pacifiers. New wearables are being developed to track gut activity with potential implications for patients with irritable bowel disease. Even consumer EEGs are currently available and may soon be able to detect cognitive problems earlier in life. It is now possible to measure almost every component of human physiology and many elements of behaviour.
Welcome to the future.
In this new technological era, digital information is transforming how we think, understand and improve upon existing systems. The growth of the wearable device market contributes to this movement by creating massive new data flows of health-related information. In combination with the explosion of available genomic data, this information can be used as a powerful resource for medical studies. Furthermore, data like this can potentially give healthcare professionals a thorough understanding of an individual’s overall health and help fill in the gaps outside of the walls of a clinic or hospital. But just having overwhelming amounts of data does not alone translate to better health and prevention or improved management of disease. For the most part, this data comes from various sources, where it generally remains siloed on the devices or app and not integrated into clinical care.
Despite these current connection gaps, new interoperable systems are already in development to help bridge and enable efficient data sharing between healthcare and patients. This movement will not only revolutionize our approach to clinical care, but also empower patients to take control of their health.