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Diagnostic Wearables Redefining Entire Fields of Medical Monitoring, Finds Global Survey

By HospiMedica International staff writers
Posted on 05 Oct 2022
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Image: Design engineers weigh in on the future of diagnostic wearables (Photo courtesy of Molex)
Image: Design engineers weigh in on the future of diagnostic wearables (Photo courtesy of Molex)

Diagnostic wearable devices enable individuals and medical providers alike to track and understand health status by providing real-time data. The keys to success for diagnostic wearables include ease of use, affordability and wide market availability – plus, increasing data collection capabilities thanks to advances in sensor electronics integration. Wearables that track heart rate, sleep, and physical activity levels are already widely used for sports and fitness purposes, and now diagnostic wearables are primed to deliver innovation for more challenging wellness and medical applications. From diet tracking to cancer detection – diagnostic wearables represent a world of opportunity. However, the path to bringing these products to market is not without its challenges.

A global survey called “Diagnostic Wearables: The Future of Medical Monitoring,” by Molex (Lisle, IL, USA), a global electronics company, explored the market drivers and issues impacting a new generation of diagnostic wearables, including the tradeoffs design engineers in this game-changing field must face – from form factors and battery considerations to data collection and management. The survey queried 600 design engineers and engineering managers across the world who are working in organizations developing wearable diagnostic solutions and who broadly agreed that the technology is ready and barriers to innovation can be overcome - it’s just a matter of time.

According to the survey findings, patients are predominately driving the demand for wearable diagnostics, followed by first-line personnel such as doctors, technicians, and home care providers who are key supporters of new wearable products. Design engineers expect consumer use to increase in the next five years, but the perceived need for medical supervision is significant. Less than half of most categories are expected to be available to all consumers without medical supervision. The potential applications for medical wearables are extensive. Design engineers expect to see a wide range of new types available for consumer use in the next five years.

Tech companies and medical device startups are expected to lead wearable diagnostic innovation in the next five years. In general, design engineering now has an array of technologies (materials, sensors, data communication, and power management) that are mature enough to deploy for a long list of health conditions. The barrier of widespread adoption seems to lie in placing these capabilities in a single package that all stakeholders will find acceptable.

99.7% of respondents reported that wearable diagnostics have additional design challenges, with issues related to ease of use and user interface cited most often, followed by issues around power consumption and battery. Cost topped the charts as the biggest challenge when designing wearable diagnostics. Sensors and connectors topped the list as the most challenging aspects of miniaturization of wearable diagnostics.

Design engineers largely saw a need for improvement in materials for wearable diagnostics. There was broad agreement that innovation is needed, with over 60% of engineers highlighting the need for hardware innovation. Design engineers believe in harvesting patient energy (i.e. body heat, sweat, heart beat) to power wearable diagnostics predict it will take time. Movement was considered the most likely source of energy harvesting. 80% of respondents reported that COVID had resulted in changing attitudes towards medical devices in non-clinical settings.

Amidst the strong demand for wearable diagnostics, roughly half of those surveyed saw tech companies and medical device startups as the future leaders in this space. However, nearly two-thirds of respondents reported that collaboration across groups is critical for innovation. This suggests a strong need for partnership between non-traditional healthcare players (e.g., tech companies and startups) and those with established expertise.

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