Wearable Tech in Healthcare: Top Devices Making a Difference

Medical technology is helping patients and healthcare professionals in new and innovative ways. Discover how wearable medical technology is generating patient health data to save lives and learn how you can become part of the health tech revolution.

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Last Updated: 02/18/2021
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We all know that technology has transformed our lives. Whether its smartphones or smart cars and houses, tech has crept its way into nearly every facet of our day to day, including our healthcare. And while our minds may leap to thoughts of AI and robotic surgery, some medical technology is a whole lot smaller. From the runner checking her heartrate at the end of a 5k to the guy administering a self-EKG after a series of heart palpations, all from a smartwatch, wearable tech is making a big difference.

The rise of wearable tech in healthcare is changing the way we’re able to monitor our own health. Now, sensors can alert a diabetic patient when their blood sugar is getting low, and smart contact lenses can give the vision-impaired the opportunity to see. While these technologies may be small, their impact can be huge. Continue reading to discover the top wearable technologies in healthcare and learn which careers are at the forefront of the medical technology revolution.

Top Wearable Tech in Healthcare

The emergence of wearable tech in healthcare offers solutions to diverse ailments, including vision loss, hearing loss, and physical disabilities. From the science-fiction feel of exoskeleton technology to the ubiquity of smartwatches, the field is expansive. Below are some of the most used wearable/smart devices being used in healthcare today.

CGM Sensors

Continuous glucose monitoring (CGM) sensors, provide 24/7 monitoring to help individuals with type 1 diabetes track their blood sugar and adjust accordingly. These sensors can also help those with intensive insulin therapy, hypoglycemia unawareness, or high or low blood sugar.

CGM sensors sit under the skin, usually on your arm or stomach. Their wireless transmitters send information to an external monitor, and healthcare professionals use the provided data to make medication adjustments. Professionals working in community health, public health, software development, or medicine may work with this population and these devices.

ECG Sensors

As smartwatches and other wearable technologies have grown from novel gadgets to widely used health and fitness tools, it’s no surprise that electrocardiogram (ECG) technology has crept into product applications. ECG is a medical-grade process that measures heart activity and reveals any potential abnormalities.

In addition to gathering health data for personal edification, this information is also a tool for primary care doctors and cardiologists. In checking for signs of atrial fibrillation (Afib), products with ECG sensors can reveal health conditions that often go unnoticed. ECG monitoring also has practical applications for fitness and sports training and for those working in nursing, sports medicine, and applied health sciences.

Electronic Skin Patches

Considered the next generation of wearable health technology, electronic skin patches adhere directly to the skin. Sensors in the patches contain wireless transmitters that allow clinicians continuous remote access to data. Electronic skin patches are used for monitoring vital signs, delivering medications, wound care, and motion detection.

Healthcare professionals can use electronic skin patches for many reasons, making the patches a versatile wearable technology. Academic avenues into working with these devices include applied health sciences, health informatics, pharmaceuticals, and kinesiology.

Hydration and Sweat Sensors

Hydration and sweat sensors track hydration levels to help athletes, military professionals, and manual laborers understand when they are dehydrated, how much they are sweating, and how much water they need to stay healthy. Hydration and sweat sensors attach directly to the skin, and screens showing real-time updates that can be sent to a smartphone or similar device.

Healthcare professionals can use hydration sensors to monitor patients prone to dehydration or those with adrenal gland disorders. Individuals in sports medicine, software development, and biosciences will likely work with these sensors.

PPG Sensors

Photoplethysmography (PPG), allows healthcare professionals to detect the volume of blood flow to the heart in a non-invasive way. Using a light sensor, the device tracks blood flow and helps explain heart rate fluctuations. Unlike large ECG sensors that can be inconvenient, PPG sensors are portable and deliver information while wearers are in motion.

Healthcare professionals use PPG sensors to monitor patients with hypertension, congestive heart failure, and other illnesses and diseases causing irregularities in blood flow. Opportunities for working with this technology include software development, nursing, and applied health sciences.

Pregnancy and Newborn Monitors

Wearable devices for both pregnant women and newborns help identify problems in real-time. Pregnancy monitors provide 24/7 information about a fetus’ heartbeat and movements while newborn monitors attached to a foot or ankle track breathing, sleep, and movement and send real-time updates.

Healthcare professionals like OBGYNs, neonatal nurses, and pediatricians use these monitors to prevent needless stillbirths and injuries. Those in obstetrics, nursing, or software development work with this type of technology.

Smart Glasses and Head-Mounted Displays

Virtual reality, augmented reality, eye trackers, and smart glasses all have the potential for supporting individuals with vision loss and/or impairment. Whether helping regain vision or providing magnification, color contrast, or voice-activated commands, these devices can provide life-changing benefits.

Healthcare professionals use these across lifespans to improve the quality of life for patients. Studies in optometry, health sciences, community health, physics, and computer design lead to careers using this technology.

Smart Clothing

Smart clothing could revolutionize healthcare by providing undergarments, clothing, and footwear embedded with sensors. These sensors track a range of biometric data, including vital signs, cardiac monitoring, stress levels, and even signs useful in preventative healthcare.

As more wearable smart clothing becomes available, healthcare providers can gather important data for making earlier diagnoses and ultimately preventing deaths caused by late detection. Degrees in fiber science, apparel design, programming, and health informatics all can lead to work with this technology.

Smart Contact Lenses

Smart contact lenses have several applications for individuals with vision loss or impairment. Augmented reality devices magnify images and project them to a smartphone for clearer viewing. Other features monitor glucose levels, help with light sensitivity, and deliver medicine.

In addition to improving patients’ sight, optometrists also use smart contact lenses to monitor eye health and identify eye diseases earlier. Those in optometry, biosciences, and nursing will likely work with smart contact lenses.

Smart Wound Care

Also known as smart bandages, this wearable technology supports wound management and healing through infection detection, medication release, and progress reports. They are especially beneficial for those with chronic diseases resulting in persistent wounds.

Healthcare professionals working with patients facing diabetes, vascular diseases, obesity, and skin issues use smart wound care to support better outcomes and lessen limb amputations from wounds that won’t heal. Those working in applied health sciences, engineering, and functional medicine work with smart wound care.

Smartwatches

Smartwatches continue to evolve, and each new iteration seemingly provides another health monitoring system. Today’s devices routinely provide services like heartrate monitoring, sleep tracking, ECG sensors, stress management, and blood oxygen measurements.

Smartwatches help both healthcare professionals and their patients by providing early detection of potentially troubling symptoms and having options for health data to be sent directly to providers. Careers in medicine, nursing, and computer programming likely involve working with these devices.

Sports and Fitness Trackers

Fitness trackers have become increasingly visible since Fitbit was founded in 2007. While Fitbit popularized these trackers, companies like Garmin, Samsung, and Whoop also have technology that monitors heart rate, tracks stress and respiration, and records blood-oxygen levels.

Smartwatches do have some fitness tracking capability, but fitness trackers encourage increased movement and better sleep to promote better overall health. The best devices have a long battery life, quality software, and a stylish design. Those working in sports medicine, cardiology, and physical therapy will find ample practical uses for these products.

Stretchable Artificial Skin

Stretchable artificial skin is on the frontline of advanced wearable technology. Using stretchable polymers and gels, scientists are exploring the seemingly endless potential of flexible materials in healthcare. Attempting to mimic the soft tissues of the human body, these materials measure and monitor changes in temperature, strain, and movement.

This cutting-edge technology is being tested for many applications, including for data-collecting uses for athletes looking to measure the efficacy of training as well as for patients rehabbing from any number of injuries and medical procedures. From traditional medicine to chemical and mechanical engineering, this technology applies to many academic fields.

Wearable Blood Pressure Monitors

Like the technology used in sports and fitness trackers, wearable blood pressure monitors prevent the need for inconvenient BP measuring cuffs. Relatively new and only FDA-approved since 2019, this wearable technology is a game-changer for people needing to regularly monitor their blood pressure.

Israeli company Biobeat first secured FDA approval for this cuffless technology. Now widely available, these monitors provide blood pressure, oxygenation, and heart rate information directly to an app. In addition to at-home use, physicians can access large amounts of health-related data remotely. Healthcare workers like doctors, nurses, and cardiologists all have practical uses for the medical data provided by these products.

Wearable Drug Delivery

Like many industries adapting to the COVID-19 pandemic, healthcare has prioritized remote care when possible. Wearable drug delivery technology fits comfortably within that narrative. While this technology is not new, advances in delivery systems and smart technology are opening possibilities in patient care, drug manufacturing, and treatment methods.

The injectable drug delivery market is estimated to grow over 10% in the next decade. Advances in wearable drug delivery technology include products such as subcutaneous devices, wearable injectors, and needle-free injectors. Doctors, nurses, and home healthcare workers all use this technology.

Wearable Exoskeletons

While the idea for wearable exoskeletons for medical purposes has been around for at least a century, drastic improvements in the past thirty years have made this once futuristic fantasy a practical medical reality. Wearable exoskeletons are widely used to enhance the quality of life for individuals who have lost the use of their legs and for people rehabbing from strokes and spinal injuries. Designed to improve both physical and mental health, these products can help patients regain mobility.

This growing technology represents a promising medical rehabilitation option, and companies like ReWalk, Ekso, and Cybderyne are on the front line of exoskeleton research and development. Mechanical engineers, software developers, and occupational therapists are all involved in the creation and implementation of these products.

Wearable Health Alert and Monitoring Devices

According to the Centers for Disease Control, one in four adults over the age of 65 falls each year. When immediate care is necessary, wearable health alert and monitoring devices help facilitate medical assistance. Especially valuable for older adults wanting to maintain their independence while easing the minds of loved ones, the best products offer comfortable wearability, long battery life, and ease of use.

The most advanced devices detect a fall or medical emergency on their own and send alerts to an established list of caregivers, family members, and neighbors. Rated for functionality and efficacy, the best medical alert systems include Medical Guardian, Phillips Lifeline, and Medical Care Alert. EMS and social work/eldercare professionals will inevitably encounter these helpful devices.

Wearable Temperature Monitoring

From monitoring a baby’s fever to continuous, preemptive COVID-19 diagnostics, wearable temperature monitoring devices offer helpful medical data without the intrusion of traditional temperature-taking methods. Most products are easily wearable outside the body, but those designed for more serious medical situations are implanted under the skin.

Just as blood pressure, heart rate, and blood oxygen levels can be monitored through wearable technology, temperature monitoring devices offer similar benefits. Athletes, for example, gain insight on performance from core body temperature. Continuous monitoring also provides a broad data set when determining overall wellness. Individuals working in sports medicine and physical training benefit from the data supplied by these devices.

Degrees & Careers Working with Wearable Healthcare Technology

The healthcare field is expansive, and many degrees and careers integrate with wearable healthcare. For some fields, like audiology, the relationship with wearable technology is obvious considering recent advances in hearing and smart technology.

As wearable technologies become ubiquitous, more general health degrees, like health science and nursing, will educate using these cutting-edge products. From pharmacists to physical therapists, most medical careers and degrees utilize some form of wearable technology applications. Here are some of the top healthcare careers at the forefront of wearable medical tech.

Audiology

From diagnosis to treatment, audiologists address hearing and ear problems. In both clinical and research positions, audiologists improve the effectiveness, practicality, and comfort of hearing aids. Considering the obtrusiveness and spotty functionality of hearing aids from decades past, today’s products are remarkable. Possible careers in audiology span research, design, and sale of wearable devices.

Health Science

Health science students can find careers within the broad scope of the healthcare industry. Future doctors or business leaders tackle concentrations such as therapeutic services, biotechnology research, and health informatics. Any of these academic tracks and career paths can lead to exceptionally close work with wearable medical technology. You can find both in-person and online health science degrees depending on your preference.

Kinesiology

Kinesiologists study the body’s movements, and academic degrees exist at all levels. From associate degrees to doctoral diplomas, graduates work as fitness trainers, physical therapists, and exercise physiologists. Online exercise science degree programs can also build on kinesiology knowledge while offering flexibility with studying. Whether in academic or professional work, the field of kinesiology has endless uses for wearable technology. Exoskeletons, ECG technology, and fitness trackers are all applicable to this field.

Nursing

Working on the frontline of the medical field, nurses encounter wearable medical technology on an almost daily basis. Whether instructing patients on using wearable drug delivery devices or encouraging them to adopt wellness monitoring apps on smartwatches, effective nurses know their way around wearable devices. Regardless of their degree, nurses work directly with patients in diagnostics, treatment, and therapeutics, all applications ripe for wearable medical devices. Both traditional and online RN programs and other nursing degrees makes earning your credentials possible no matter your schedule.

Occupational Therapy

Occupational therapists and occupational therapy assistants treat injured, ill, or disabled patients by using everyday activities as therapeutic methods. This includes using special medical equipment to facilitate patient therapy. Wearable devices like health alert monitors, hydration sensors, and ECG monitors all have practical applications in occupational therapy. With knowledge of wearable devices, occupational therapists and their assistants also train patients and caretakers on using this technology. You can earn your master’s in occupational therapy online or in-person.

Pharmacy

Pharmacists and pharmacy techs play a significant and often overlooked role in patient care. Armed with the pharmaceutical and product knowledge needed for healthcare treatment, these professionals explain drug uses and administration along with offering suggestions on wearable medical devices. From wearable drug delivery to wearable health monitoring, pharmacists and their technicians often act as medical advisors outside of doctors’ offices. Both in-person and online pharmacy tech programs and pharmacist programs are offered, so be sure to check with your school.

Physical Therapy

Physical therapists help injured, ill, or recovering patients regain movement and mobility while also assisting in pain management. Trained to diagnose functions and movements, these professionals develop individualized care plans. Adding to the myriad therapeutic methods used in the field, physical therapists often use wearable medical devices like smart clothing and exoskeletons to collect data for use in patient care. You’ll have to earn a doctorate to become a physical therapist and both online DPT programs and traditional programs exist.

Resources

  • American Academy of Audiology The world’s largest professional organization for audiologists, this group offers professional development and educational services to over 14,000 audiologists. It also offers scholarship opportunities for students looking to enter the field.
  • Harvard Biodesign Lab Working on the cutting-edge of wearable technology, Harvard University’s Biodesign Lab is developing the next generation of soft exosuits to help patients with muscle weakness and neurological disorders.
  • Healthtech Magazine With a range of information for all things technology-related in the healthcare industry, Healthtech Magazine offers news, reviews, and topics spanning data analytics and patient-centered care.
  • Latest Trends in Medical Monitoring Devices and Wearable Technology This Business Insider article provides an overview of current trends in wearable health technology. It covers a variety of common wearable monitoring devices and looks at the future of medical devices.
  • Wearable Technologies A resource for news and information regarding wearable technology, this site highlights innovations in the field and looks at both the science and business of wearable technologies.