Skip all navigation and go to page content

Wearable Technology Trends:

From Fitness Tracking to Clinical Applications


The phrase “wearable technology” may bring to mind fitness trackers, smart watches or Google Glass, but it includes a wide variety of devices for both consumers and health care. The wearable technology industry is an increasingly lucrative market and experts predict it will continue to grow. A new market research report “Wearable Electronics Market and Technology Analysis (2013 – 2018),” expects the global wearable electronics market revenue to reach $8 billion by 2018 with the total number of devices shipped to exceed 130 million units. This includes all types of wearable technology such as gadgets, headgear, wristbands, and smart textiles.

Montage of wearable technology

The most popular consumer wearable devices are fitness wristbands equipped with sensors that track a user’s physical activities. These self-tracking devices gained popularity with the quantified-self movement which employs technology to increase self-awareness by tracking data related to exercise, diet, and health and then using that information to encourage behavior modification to improve the quality of life. The fitness bands track activities such as the number of steps taken, stairs climbed, distance achieved, calories burned, sleep patterns, and heart rate. Some devices include motivational messages or feedback to help the user reach his or her goal, others display notifications of texts and emails. All of them sync with mobile phones or web sites. Users of the same device can share data with friends, thus combining fitness activities with social networking. Some of the top rated fitness bands include: Nike Fuelband, Jawbone UP, Samsung Gear Fit, Razer Nabu, LG Lifeband Touch, Garmin Vivofit, Jaybird Reign, Fitbit Flex, and Larklife. Most of these bands have the same basic functions, employing an accelerometer and altimeter to track steps and climbing stairs, but additional features (such as heart rate monitors), display modes, design, and price vary. You can easily find reviews online, but when comparing the highest-rated devices the difference is usually based on personal preference, for both design and which metrics you feel are most important.

Health Sciences Libraries have also become involved in the self-tracking fitness movement. MLA News had an article in their February 2014 issue, Getting Fit with the Fitbit: Exploring the Library’s Role in Wearable Technology and Workplace Wellness, that describes the one-year study by the Harriet F. Ginsburg Health Sciences Library at the University of Central Florida College of Medicine (UCF COM) on the use of wearable technology for workplace wellness and exploring the library’s role in introducing new technology of this type.

As part of a workplace wellness initiative, the library purchased thirty Fitbit One activity trackers and developed a study group to use them. The library also created two LibGuides on workplace wellness and consumer health information to complement the study and provide quality resources for the participants.

Clinical Applications

There are also numerous exciting new wearable technologies designed specifically for clinical uses. Medical devices such as glucose monitors, ECG monitors, pulse oximeters, and blood pressure monitors are all becoming wearable technology and are being used in managing chronic diseases and monitoring patients’ post-hospitalization. Much of the technology being used isn’t new, but it is now being focused on making it more readily accessible, usable, and in some cases, fashionable. Here are some of the latest devices including some still in development.

Probably one of the most familiar devices, Google Glass has been worn by surgeons to give other physicians and medical students the perfect point of view during surgical and medical procedures, and Glass has already been implemented in training.

The BodyGuardian Remote Monitoring System (RMS), was developed in collaboration with the Mayo Clinic to support remote monitoring for patients with cardiac arrhythmias. The system has been FDA-cleared for the monitoring of non-lethal arrhythmias in ambulatory patients. It lets doctors monitor key biometrics allowing patients to follow their normal daily activities. A small sensor attached to the patient’s chest collects data, including ECG, heart rate, respiration rate, and activity level. The device transmits the data to physicians via mobile phone technology providing a continual connection between patients and their care teams.

The Mimo baby monitor is a “onesie,” called the Mimo Kimono that monitors baby movement, respiration and skin temperature and then sends the data to a smartphone. According to the company’s web site, the app allows parents to see their baby’s data in real-time; set alerts to let them know if anything changes; and to view trends and analytics about their baby’s sleep as time progresses. Two green stripes across the chest of the kimono are sensors that record respiratory rate. Potentially signaling breathing difficulty, this data could be valuable in the management of patients with asthma or croup. An additional removable turtle shaped device clipped on the front of the kimono allows the monitoring of body temperature, heart rate, and activity level.

Moticon is the world’s first fully integrated and wireless sensor insole, according to the company. The insole can be used in any shoe to measure the distribution and motion parameters for patients and athletes. It’s currently used for everyday patient monitoring, rehabilitation measures, and for training analysis in sports.

Another aspect being explored is the use of wearable technology in clinical trials. The PRO-Diary has an OLED (organic light-emitting diode) screen and can be loaded with survey questions the patient can then answer right on the wrist. The device can also be set up with alarms that will prompt patients to answer questions at a specific time. The company said the technology has been validated against both paper and Palm Pilot-based surveys and tested favorably.

Health Technology in Development

The IntellivueMX40 is a compact wearable patient monitor that can be used with ambulatory patients and during patient transport. (Follow the link to see photos.) The MX40 allows patients to walk around care settings and has a touchscreen display that lets clinicians see ECG, oxygen saturation (SpO2), and other vital signs in real time with just a push of a button. The device is also watertight to withstand patient showering, accidental immersion into water, and disinfectantcleaning.

The Zoll LifeVest wearable defibrillator monitors heart patients at risk for sudden cardiac arrest. If a life-threatening heart rhythm is detected, the device delivers a shock to restore normal heart rhythm. The Zoll LifeVest can be used to monitor patients before or after bypass surgery or as a temporary safeguard while a patient is being evaluated for arrhythmic risk. (Follow the link to see photos.)

Nuubo is a new-generation wireless and remote cardiac monitoring platform. The company designs, manufactures and sells a portfolio of wearable medical technologies for cardiac prevention, diagnostics, and rehabilitation solutions. The tools use textile sensors and are based on a wireless ECG remote monitoring platform using proprietary technology. Nuubo is commercially available, but distribution in the U.S. is yet to be determined.

For nutrition information, Tellspec is working on a device that you can wave over your meal and get an instant yes-no readout to questions about your food or beverage’s allergen, chemical, calories, and ingredient properties on your smartphone.

I’d love to know what is happening in your library or institution regarding wearable technology or wellness activities. Have you or your colleagues used any of the fitness bands? Which ones? What was your experience? Would you recommend it to others? Regarding wellness activities, is there a role for the library as participant, a support group, or the host of an activity? Have any of your institutions been involved in developing, testing, or implementing new wearable technologies? Has the library been involved or provided research support? If so, please share your experiences with me so I can share it with rest of the region.

– Rachel Vukas, Technology/Kansas Coordinator

Comments are closed.