Wearable technology and the health sector have always shared a close relationship. In fact, much of the ‘wearable tech’ we see as consumers started life as a medical development. We’re starting to take charge of our own health, and on-trend wearables such as fit bands are helping us to manage our own wellness on a daily basis. But Google is taking things a little further and have seen the real potential in turning wearables into lifesavers.
The search engine giant is diversifying into hardware as well as software, and has recently announced that it is developing wearables that will help diagnose the onset of serious health issues such as heart disease and even cancer. But their idea of ‘wearables’ takes things to the next level, by incorporating nanotechnology. These wearables go inside the body, not outside, and while it sounds like something out of a science fiction film now, this is real tech that’s being developed as we speak.
The project, led by Google X Laboratories, allows data on the internal condition of the human body at a cellular level to be collected by nanobots within the blood stream. This is molecular biology at the very cutting edge, and indicates a definite shift towards preventative rather than reactionary health care. By incorporating nanotechnology into the mix, the benefits for everyone could be enormous. Google X is also actively involved in developing technology that will help people with Parkinson’s Disease, and have recently acquired Lift Labs who invented the ‘Parkinson’s Spoon’ which helps to negate the serious tremors associated with the disease.
Other firms are also heavily involved in the development of medical wearables, and indeed the advent of flexible screen technology as championed by companies such as Plastic Logic are making it easier for patients to be monitored without having to hook them up to machines or tying up beds. Real-time delivery of data can also help doctors develop more preventative treatment. “Plastic Logic’s flexible plastic displays are completely transformational in terms of product interaction,” explains Plastic Logic CEO Indro Mukerjee. “Our development of a colour flexible plastic display is particularly significant, since the same process could enable unbreakable, flexible display solutions with other media such as LCD and OLED.” This could have a significant part to play in remote patient monitoring in the future.
So it’s clear that R&D into wearable health products is huge, and estimates are that it will be the single-most important area of progress in wearable tech in the next few years. But it’s also offering ordinary people a chance to take responsibility for their own health by using tech to help them monitor and manage their own well-being. For example, wristbands that remind sedentary office workers to get up and move around every hour could help to significantly reduce the massively negative impact of a chair-bound existence. They can also monitor things such as heart rate and blood pressure, giving us early warning of any indicators that could predict a deterioration in a pre-existing condition.
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As the primary health services struggle to cope with an ageing population, wearable tech could also ensure that we spend less time in hospital and more time at home, while the professionals monitor our condition in ‘real time’ via wearable technology. Not only has home recovery been proven to enhance the wellbeing and overall health of patients, but it also frees up hospital beds that would otherwise be occupied by long-stay patients that don’t actually need to be in a primary healthcare environment. Conditions such as heart disease and diabetes can be monitored remotely, with the information being downloaded via a Bluetooth wearable and straight to the medical professional’s computer miles away. It could also mean the difference between life and death as the healthcare professionals will be able to react instantly to any warning signs their equipment picks up.
All of this could mean that healthcare in the future will look very different from the traditional idea of long-term institutionalised treatment in hospitals. It also means that as individuals, we will be much more responsible for our own healthcare in the future.