Software development view of healthcare wearables

The future of medical technology: wearable devices.

Once a year in January, the Consumer Technology Association organizes a trade show in Las Vegas so those who thrive on the business of consumer technologies can gather to share ideas that will probably change the world of business and technology. We followed Digital Trends and looked at CES 2019 trying to stay up to date with the most innovative gadgets and trends in healthcare. There were many which may totally transform the way we treat some diseases or the way we are diagnosed. It inspired us to take a look at healthcare wearables from the software development point of view.

In this article, first we’ll look at 3 examples of healthcare wearables and then briefly talk about characteristics of software development for the wearable ecosystem. This is our main focus at Freeport Metrics.

The diverse world of healthcare wearables

Healthcare wearable devices come in many different flavors. They can be worn by a patient or a doctor, in a hospital setting or in everyday use. Some of them are used for self-diagnosis, others to improve the comfort and efficiency of healthcare workers. Let’s take a look at a couple of devices to get some sense of the broadness of the spectrum.

RFID wristband for patient identification

A tiny RFID (radio-frequency identification) chip embedded in a plastic or paper bracelet is one the most simplistic wearables you can imagine. It’s very powerful, though, in a healthcare context. It allows for quick identification of a patient and retrieval or related EHR (Electronic Health Records). Some studies show that almost 60% of medical errors that lead to patient deaths were identity errors or ‘wrong patient’ errors.

Besides the basic identification use case, you can deploy RFID antennas and track patient location in real time. This may be useful for hospital personnel to automatically track the progress of medical procedures. The same data can be shared with a patient’s family e.g. through a visual dashboard. Live information about the progress of surgery may greatly reduce the anxiety of family members. We worked on a system like this for our partner ItemAware which had a beta deployment in one of the hospitals in Ohio.

Read more here: How to create an effective Asset Tracking System?

Want an example? Zebra - RFID wristbands and bracelets.

Smart bands and smartwatches that help fight heart diseases

According to WHO (World Health Organization), ischaemic heart disease together with stroke is the world’s ‘biggest killer,’ responsible for more than 15 million deaths a year. No question as to why heart monitoring features are so popular in smartwatches and fitness trackers. Heart rate monitoring is a basic feature available in most fitness bands and smartwatches today. Apple took smartwatch heart monitoring to the next level with its FDA approved ECG application that can notify you about irregularities in your heart rhythm. Such irregularities are one of the leading conditions that can result in a stroke. It’s also worth to mention Omron HeathGuide which is the first wearable blood pressure monitor.

Smart glasses for doctors and healthcare assistants

While still in its early days, smart glasses and AR (XR) headsets seem like a great technology to utilize in the healthcare setting. From simple hands-free access to medical records or streaming POV (point of view) for real-time consultation with other doctors, through training medical students using augmented reality models, to assisting surgeons in image guided therapy. A less obvious but equally inspiring use case is a healthcare assistant sharing live camera feed with a low-mobility patient so they can ‘virtually’ enjoy a walk around the zoo together.

Most of the examples listed above are in pilot or even conceptual phases and still need to be verified. As we don’t like waiting, we bought a pair of Vuzix Blade smartglasses to our office to experiment.

Developing software for wearables ecosystem

We at Freeport Metrics live usually on the software side of things, so let’s take a look at what makes wearable system development different. Despite the fact that wearables ecosystem is so broad, we can outline a couple of key characteristics:

  • Quality and accuracy is the top priority - this one seems obvious for systems that impact people’s health and sometimes their lives. A popular startup motto ’move fast and break things’ is not applicable in this case. Detailed testing and rigorous software development procedures are a necessity.
  • Compliance - when operating a system that processes sensitive medical data you may be a subject to governmental regulations like HIPAA. From our own own experience, we know that is a non-trivial challenge.

Read more here: Creating a digital product for the healthcare industry? Remember about the HIPAA compliance checklist!

  • Security - highly related to the topic of compliance. All sensitive data must be protected from unauthorized access and encrypted both at rest and when transported over the web. It is also critical that the rollout plan for the system guarantees upgrades and security patches in foreseeable future. The world of IoT (Internet of Things) has seen too many examples of security breaches because a vendor stopped support and required security patches that were not applied.
  • Interoperability - often ignored, interoperability is one of the key features required for a smooth adoption and longtime usefulness of wearable systems. If you develop a device for everyday use, it may be a good idea to integrate with standard smartphone fitness and healthcare APIs like Android FIT API or Apple Healthkit. Interoperability of medical systems (those wearable as well as those more traditional ones) is equally important for healthcare professionals. When different systems are supplied by different vendors, relying on industry standards reduces the cost of integration and maintenance.

Is the wearable health technology the future of the medicine?

According to the portal Wearable Technologies, the experts expect a boom in the future wearable market, although wearables have faced much skepticism so far. The future of wearable tech will see a partnership of industry giants to produce stylish gadgets which are concealed and which can furnish boundless solutions. At FM we do agree with this view and we are ready to face the challenge to help change the world of healthcare technology. What’s more, we know how to do it! Learn more about our experience in HealthTech.

Questions? Contact us here.

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