Self-monitoring medical conditions with connected wearable medical devices offers the prospect of cutting NHS costs while involving individuals in their healthcare and promoting healthier lifestyles
We’ve never been more in control of monitoring our health. From wristband step and heart-rate trackers to weighing scales that monitor body fat, self-monitoring and wearable medical devices is changing the way we think about our own biology. Soon there will even be implants with sensors, which can measure blood data in people with diabetes.
This high-tech approach to healthcare is popular too. According to a recent survey by software service company Trustmarque and YouGov, 81 per cent of respondents said they would like to see more connected and wearable medical devices used in healthcare, with half of respondents saying they thought wearables were potentially most useful to monitor vulnerable people.
Collette Johnson, director of medical at electronics consultancy Plextek, believes the use of self-monitoring devices has enormous potential and could help the NHS save at least 60 per cent on the average cost per patient. Crucially, she thinks, the public is ready for it.
“Wristband monitors like Jawbone and Garmin vivofit are helping us become more aware of how our bodies work,” she says. “They have taught us to be more aware of what is normal for our bodies.
“And in a patient with a chronic condition, such as diabetes or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, a wearable monitoring device might alert them earlier to a change in their health which needs medical attention. So wearables can help patients engage with the medical community sooner.”
Cédric Hutchings, vice president for health at Nokia Technologies, agrees. “The greatest benefit from wearables is in chronic disease management through empowering the patient,” he says.
Withings Body Cardio, developed by Nokia Technologies, uses pulse wave velocity to monitor weight, BMI, body composition and heart rate
The key, Mr Hutchings says, is finding ways wearable medical devices can be part of everyday life for users. For example, Nokia has just launched a set of scales, called Body Cardio, which use pulse wave velocity (PWV) measurements. This means users can log accurate measures of weight, body composition (fat, muscle, water and bone mass), standing heart rate and PWV, which is a key indicator of cardiac health and associated with hypertension and risks of cardiovascular incidents. The scales, available from Apple, are Nokia’s most advanced product to date.