Healthcare and wellness wearables - The RF module connection
The healthcare/medical and wellness wearables market flourishes, thanks in part to wireless IoT connectivity provided by RF modules. In this article, we look at the market, key trends and innovative wearables in this space including some in which our RF modules are embedded.
Wearable healthcare and wellness devices market
Juniper Research estimates that the worldwide market for wearable medical devices will be worth US$ 20 billion by 2023. Analysts MarketsandMarkets are more bullish and expect the worldwide market to reach US$ 32.71 billion by 2027 from US$ 6.22 billion in 2017, at a CAGR of 18.3%.
In 2017, IQVIA calculated that consumers had the choice of over 318,000 health-related mobile apps, approximately double the number available in 2015. This growth in numbers of apps has been driven by several factors including IoT and the rapid rise in popularity of mobile wearable sensors such as FitBit, and the Apple Watch.
Difference – wellness v healthcare apps
Over half the mobile healthcare apps are general “wellness,” consumer-orientated apps. However, at the end of 2017, the professional mobile healthcare sector, represented 40 percent of all health-related apps. Its growth is outpacing that of the wellness sector.
Unlike consumer-focused wellness devices, technology including apps used by healthcare professionals need the approval of regulators such as the FDA in the USA or the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency in the UK.
According to IQVIA, the top five areas of clinical interest are diabetes prevention, diabetes, asthma, cardiac rehabilitation and pulmonary rehabilitation.
Key trend - from preventative to therapeutic use
Until recently, wearable wellness and medical devices on smartphones and fitness trackers have focused on preventative health. They have monitored physiological activity and promoted behavioural change such as encouraging us to exercise, tell us when to take medication or meditate. However, Pattie Maes, professor of media technology at MIT Media Lab told Wired that this is all about to change as wearable medical devices start providing therapeutic intervention with healthcare professionals using them to replace traditional drugs and therapies. This approach harnesses wearable devices and their ability to produce “vibrational, temperature-based, olfactory and electrical stimulation” to act on the body or nervous system to solve health issues.
Opportunities and challenges for digital therapeutics adoption
In its “Digital therapeutics: Preparing for takeoff” report consultants McKinsey say that digital therapeutics bring great benefits to society and could be an even larger market if there were the right incentives for pharmaceutical companies to participate in it.
Digital therapeutics typically focus on medical conditions that are underserved by today’s healthcare systems such as neurological disorders including diseases of the nervous system, epilepsy, Parkinson’s or chronic diseases such as diabetes, strokes, or arthritis. They often deliver treatment more cheaply than traditional ways, saving healthcare professionals’ time. Digital therapeutics are also becoming increasingly sophisticated.
McKinsey believes that the market has great potential and could be growing more quickly but is being held back for two reasons. Digital therapeutics is not differentiated enough from the consumer-orientated digital health and wellness market. McKinsey recommends that digital therapeutics products be clearly defined and pass certain regulatory and safety standards requiring research and controlled clinical trials. McKinsey draws an analogy with the pharmaceutical industry where pharmaceutical products are differentiated from supplements and over the counter drugs.
Additionally, McKinsey says that “the incentives for providers, payors and pharmaceutical companies to adopt therapeutics are not well aligned.” The issues include the time and financial investment required of healthcare providers to manage the data that underpins digital therapies; the consequences for health insurers and reimbursement and the lengthy R&D processes at pharma companies and the relatively short period over which their patents protect their inventions, revenue stream and profit margin.
Innovative wearables for therapeutic intervention
Among the many interesting examples of the transformation of wearable medical devices into useful tools for healthcare professionals and therapeutic intervention are:
- Ava, a Swiss start-up is working on clinical trials of a wearable device and app which enables women to track their fertility cycles and help those who do or don’t want to become pregnant as well as providing data on other women’s health issues. (source: Techcrunch)
- Microsoft is developing a wristband called the Emma Watch to assist people suffering from Parkinson’s disease by compensating for tremors in their hands. The wrist band generates a rhythmic vibration effect through small motors around the wrist. This vibration introduces white noise that short-circuits the feedback loop in the brain’s sensorimotor. The sensorimotor controls perceptions of movement and positioning of the body. Parkinson’s sufferers have faulty sensorimotors. The Emma Watch enables its wearer to regain some control of movement in their hands.
- French start-up Diabeloop has created a wearable to help adults with type 1 diabetes. Its DBLG1 technology includes a continuous glucose monitor (CGM), a patch insulin pump and a handset hosting the Diabeloop algorithm and user interface. Every five minutes, the CGM communicates a glucose measurement via Bluetooth technology to the handset every five minutes. “DBLG1 artificial intelligence analyzes data in real time and takes into account the patient’s physiology, history and data entries (meals or exercise) to determine the correct dose of insulin to administer”.
Insight SiP case studies
Insight SiP has shared its expertise in ultra-miniature RF modules and System in Package technology with a range of customers developing IoT-based wellness and healthcare wearables. Here are several of the many applications which include Insight SiP’s expertise and technology:
- Sleep technology – We have worked with Beddr, a US health technology company to create SleepTuner™ - the world’s smallest wearable that measures how breathing and sleep positions affect sleep quality. Through an app, it also offers insights into how to sleep better. The SleepTuner™ has obtained FDA approval.
- Health monitoring tracker – We provided medtech company BodyCap with the RF module expertise and module for inclusion in its highly innovative e-Tact® wearable device. This miniature sensor continuously monitors human activity, body orientation and temperature. It can be used to analyse medical issues including sleep disorders, diabetes and heart/respiratory failure. French astronaut Thomas Pesquet tested the e-Tact® in space whilst on the International Space Station (ISS), as part of the European Space Agency’s health monitoring programme in 2017.
- Eyewear – An eyewear company brought Insight SiP in to develop smart connected eyeglasses for consumer and healthcare professional usage. Using AI and integrated sensors, these eyeglasses can detect drowsiness, potential falls and track activity.
- Hearing aids – As the population ages, the demand for hearing aids increases. Insight SiP’s expertise in ultra-miniature RF modules and System in Package technology has helped a customer create an ultra-miniature in-ear hearing aid.
- Orthodontics – We provided RF module expertise to a customer for the development of a device that uses light energy to help stimulate parts of the jaw to increase the speed of treatment for braces.
Insight SiP RF modules for healthcare and wellness
The Insight SiP ISP15 family of ultra-miniature RF modules is particularly well-suited to providing wireless communications between small connected IoT devices in the healthcare and wellness sectors.