Wearable Medical Devices: Types, Trends, Pros & Cons

wearable medical device With wearable technology gaining popularity, wearable medical devices are also becoming a statement in healthcare.

Seemingly, wearable devices that can collect or transmit biometric data are utilized from monitoring vital signs to covertly tracking one’s actions and locations. Most wearable devices are worn on the wrist or waist, making them portable and wearable without being seen. This allows diabetic patients to discreetly monitor their glucose levels, while assisting law enforcement agencies with covert tracking of criminals for investigation purposes.

However with wearable medical devices come certain drawbacks such as biometric data security concerns and difficulties in information analysis due to wearable medical device data collection and transmission constraints. We will cover all info regarding wearable medical devices here, including the good, the bad, and the future of such devices.


Types of Wearable Medical Devices


There are many types of wearable medical devices.


1. Electrode Patches

Electrode patches are wearable medical devices that monitor patients’ vital signs and transmit the data to an external device such as smartphones or smartwatches. The wearable device will then provide biometric feedback to encourage patients to improve their lifestyle.

The wearable patch monitors electrocardiogram (ECG), electromyogram (EMG) and electrooculography (EOG). During an ECG, electrodes are attached on the patient’s chest for 15 minutes while in an EMG state, a pair of electrodes is applied to the skin overlying muscles with vibration stimuli. Additionally, wearable EOG devices feature optical sensors placed around the patient’s eye which track eye movements. Ultimately wearable electrode patches produce measurable results like a wearable heart rate monitor, wearable blood pressure monitor or wearable pedometer.



2. Fitness Devices

Fitness wearable devices can be further divided into chest strap monitors , smart wristband monitors and ear clip monitors.  Chest strap monitors are worn around the patient’s chest to track their heart rates while smart wristband monitors (such as Apple Watch) feature on-screen displays for viewing time, daily activity stepping counts and notifications. Wristband fitness monitors usually contain a sensor that detects body movement which vibrates every time the patient exceeds their daily goals when activated. Finally, wearable ear clip monitors like the Movo Band 2 transmit biometric data through Bluetooth to smartphones or other wearable devices.



3. Vital Sign Devices

Vital sign devices are wearable devices that can continuously collect vital signs such as body temperature, blood pressure and heart rate over an extended period of time. While these wearable monitoring devices do not have the ability to transmit data to receivers, healthcare professionals can analyze the collected biometric data for treatment effectiveness; hence wearable vital sign monitors are primarily used in hospitals. The wearable type monitor includes a flexible thermometer strip , an inflatable bladder on a wearable cuff, or a pulse oximeter sensor that measures the patient’s oxygen levels by focusing on skin color changes.



4. Drug Delivery Systems

Drug delivery wearable devices have been introduced to improve medication compliance for patients who have to take multiple medications at different times. The medical devices contain embedded pumps that release certain doses of specific drugs through the skin at predetermined intervals. Such smart drug delivery systems provide accurate control over dosing, dispensing, and administration times while tracking the number of doses taken by patients. Additionally, wearable drug delivery systems ensure that patients on maintenance therapy take their medications regularly and in the correct amount, hence preventing overdose or underdosing.



5. Heart Rate Monitoring Devices

Wearable heart rate monitors continuously track the patient’s heart rates to prevent cardiovascular diseases. Currently there are four main types of wearable heart rate monitors: One-lead ECG machines, disposable ECG sensors , wireless ECGs and proprietary wearables .  One-lead ECG machine contain multiple wearable ECG wearable sensors which are attached to a patient’s chest and arms. This medical device records electrocardiographic waveforms on paper or digital reports for analysis by healthcare professionals. Disposable ECG sensors consist of two wearable electrodes that are placed on the skin while a third electrode is connected to an external recording device, such as a smartphone or tablet. The recorder can wirelessly transmit data through Bluetooth to healthcare professionals and physicians for real-time heart rate monitoring during exercise sessions. Finally, wireless ECGs transmit data via cellular networks to smartphones, laptops or cloud storage systems where it is available for viewing within minutes by healthcare professionals and family members.



6. Vision Correction Systems

Generally, contact lenses and glasses correct patients’ vision problems by focusing an image at a desired point in front of their eyes. A new class of high-tech glasses known as ocular lens displays (OLDs) are capable of providing basic vision correction along with wearable medical device technologies. OLDs are wearable medical devices that include ocular displays which are capable of displaying an image directly onto the retina using display technology, hence providing patients with magnified vision while eliminating the need for eyeglasses.



Wearable Medical Device Pros & Cons




User Friendly: As wearable technology becomes more advanced, wearable medical devices will become more user-friendly and sensors embedded into the medical devices can provide continuous monitoring of many diseases. Moreover, wearable biosensors can be used to detect the onset of diseases at an early stage before it becomes a major problem for patients. Wearable technology devices have the potential to revolutionize medical device research and diagnosis by providing biometric data from wearable sensors continuously, which will make wearable medical devices useful in improving healthcare tremendously.

Convenient to Wear: Most wearable medical devices are wearable on the wrist or clipped to clothing, hence, wearable medical devices will not restrict patients in performing daily activities. Additionally, wearable sensors can be used anywhere and at any time providing real-time information about patients to physicians and healthcare professionals.

Helps Prevent Diseases from Becoming Advanced: Wearable sensors have the potential to improve the detection of disease symptoms at an early stage by providing patients with medical alerts which track their health continuously. Medical alerts can notify patients when wearable sensors detect a change in their medical data which may be due to the onset of a disease. Medical alerts allow patients to take action proactively and provide advanced medical care.




Wearables Have a Long Way To Go: The medical devices discussed above demonstrate wearable technology’s potential to improve healthcare, but are only in their infancy stage. The wearable medical device industry is still undergoing development to perfect these technologies and incorporate them into routine practice. Moreover, wearable biometric data collected by such devices needs to be interpreted correctly with other information for more effective diagnosis and treatment before wearable medical devices can be used as a reliable approach to clinical practice. 

Need To Be More Accurate and Lower Costs: Wearable medical devices will only be successful if they provide accurate information and improve patient outcomes while lowering healthcare costs.  Wearable medical devices must be affordable and technology needs to improve significantly to allow wearable sensors that are small enough for wearable medical applications.

Need To Ensure Safety: Finally, wearables need to be thoroughly tested by healthcare providers before being used to ensure patient safety and efficacy of treatments. Doctors and nurses may also find it difficult to analyze data collected from wearable medical devices instantly due to the manufacturers failing to transmit wearable data quickly.


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