The Impact of the IoT and Wearables on Health

Connected devices, built-in sensors and collected data allow individuals to lead independent lives at a much lower risk.
Published: November 5, 2018

Many older people express an interest in staying in their homes for as long as possible as they grow older. As a result, the home health-care market has grown tremendously, with many companies trying to take advantage of this new demand. There are currently more than 300,000 applications in the health technologies market. Technological trends like the Internet of Things (IoT), videoconferencing and wearable devices are being introduced to make the option of staying home more feasible.

According to Gartner, the wearables market has an estimated annual growth of 16.7 percent and may reach $34 billion in 2020. In Brazil, the trend is confirmed, but still at a slow pace. A recent study by the Technos Group says the annual consumption of smart watches in Brazil is still four times lower than the world’s average consumption. On the other hand, the acquisition of smartphones in that country is among the largest in the world, and the country represents 4.4 percent of the global market. This shows an adherence to mobile technologies, but for now restricted to smartphones.

The role of connected devices was evidenced by the launch of Apple’s new smart watch. The latest version of the Apple Watch includes new health features, such as an accelerometer and a gyroscope which can detect sudden drops, and a heart rate sensor that can make an electrocardiogram using a new ECG application. Jeff Williams, Apple’s chief operating officer, called the watch “an intelligent guardian” for health.

Using electrodes and an electric heart rate sensor, the Apple Watch Series 4 allows users to take an ECG reading directly from their wrist through the ECG application. The application may classify whether the heart is beating in a normal pattern or if there are signs of atrial fibrillation. All recordings are stored in the health application, in a file that can be shared with doctors.

A fall-detection feature uses an accelerometer and a gyroscope that measures up to 32G of force, along with some custom algorithms, to identify any sudden drops. By analyzing the pulse trajectory and the acceleration of the impact, the smart clock sends the user a warning after a fall, which can be dispensed with or used to initiate a call to emergency services, according to the company. If Apple Watch feels immobile for 60 seconds after the notification, it automatically calls the emergency service and sends a message with the user’s location.

Reducing falls and re-hospitalizations are the major focus of health-care companies. The cost of falls and fall-related injuries is estimated to be billions of dollars annually, and could grow to almost $60 billion by 2020, according to HUD.

This is not Apple’s first product for the health-care market. In 2016, the company launched CareKit, a software network that enabled the monitoring of medical conditions at home via an iPhone. Many other large companies are also entering this market. For example, electronics retailer Best Buy acquired GreatCall, a company that develops and sells smartphones, smartwatches, medical-alert devices and other high-end technologies to support and extend senior independence. Amazon is also exploring applications in this market, through its Alexa device. The company has created a team within its Alexa voice-assistant division called Health and Welfare, which includes more than a dozen employees.

These connected devices, as well as internal sensors and the data collected, allow individuals to maintain independent lives at a much lower risk. Hospitals, practitioners and health device manufacturers use the IoT to keep patients connected remotely to health-care providers and services. By tracking a patient’s vital signs and health status indicators through health devices, it is possible to improve outcomes by allowing providers to care for more patients, reduce hospital visits and lower overall health costs.

The idea is to simplify health management so that a user can continue living a normal life at home. In the background, the devices share the readings reliably, so that any warning signal can be picked up and any daily medication reminders can be sent proactively to patients. The technology not only enables this monitoring, but helps users to lead a healthier life, increasing the population’s life expectancy.

Barrett Coakley is a product marketing manager for ClickSoftware, a provider of automated workforce-management and workforce-optimization solutions and field services.