Empower People With Health Wearables: Mixing Tech And Health

From Fitbits to smart watches, health-focused wearables are perhaps one of the best IoT innovations to show immediate benefits. These devices provide individuals with instant feedback on everything from the number of steps they walked to the effectiveness of a cardio workout. The industry is growing. No longer is it focused just on consumer applications; it’s reached well beyond into health monitoring.

Adoption of IoT-connected wearables captivates consumers and manufacturers

Engagement platforms like wearables are touching a wide range of consumer lifestyle sectors. They collect data from devices worn by consumers and then provide insight, information, and even rewards to users. More importantly, they provide important data that can do everything from encouraging better fitness to diagnosing health conditions.

The advantages are multi-faceted. The consumer benefits first and foremost with more information about his or her health and a better ability to choose a healthcare plan, make fitness decisions, and even navigate complex medical issues. Medical science benefits, too. It is now possible for doctors to use information from such platforms to make research-based decisions and even diagnose and treat health conditions.

Wearables encourage better fitness

Wearables, which are usually simply designed and worn on the wrist to avoid interfering with daily tasks, are the simplest of this type of engagement platform. These devices transmit information over a receiver or Bluetooth technology to end users, who can use the data to make decisions about health. According to IDC, of the 23 million wearables shipped in the third quarter of 2016, 85% were fitness-focused products.

Consumers love this type of technology for many reasons. For one, it provides motivation; knowing you have 1,000 steps to go to reach your daily goal encourages you to keep walking. For another, knowing you’ve surpassed your target heart rate encourages you to slow down during a workout. However, the information can also provide long-term benefits. Companion apps can track a person’s health and fitness over a period of time, and these devices make it easy to communicate with relevant third parties, such as doctors or insurance providers.

Health insurers benefit from better monitoring, better health

Health insurers understand the value that such engagement platforms offer, and many are willing to provide discounts to members who become more active and engaged using IoT and other connectivity resources.

A provision in the U.S. Affordable Care Act allows employers and health insurers to offer wellness incentives. For example, employees who agree to wear a fitness or activity tracker can receive rewards or discounts on medical costs. Even after spending money on an activity-tracking device, participants can see overall savings when their incentives are factored in.

This makes sense when you consider the benefits. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that 29 million people in the United States have diabetes, and 86 million have pre-diabetes. According to the American Diabetes Association, the annual U.S. cost of diagnosed diabetes is $ 245 billion a year, much of which is paid for by health insurers. However, many people with this condition can benefit from becoming more active, eating better quality food, and tracking their blood sugar levels more consistently – potentially reducing the onset of the condition and its costs, all of which can be enabled by wearables and other connected tools.

For example, a University of Mississippi study that used a mobile Internet device to help people with diabetes track their blood sugar resulted in fewer hospital visits and better disease control, producing a $ 339,184 savings in ER visits alone among the 85 people enrolled in the study.

Keeping patients healthier

mHealth, the term used to describe the use of mobile devices to transmit health-related information, is already a $ 23 billion industry, and it is expected to grow more than 35% over the next three years, according to SNS Research.

This connectivity enables doctors to remotely track their patients’ well-being and intervene when the data shows emerging problems. For example, wearable devices that transmit data on blood sugar, heart rate, heart rhythm, blood clots, and so forth can enable doctors to better track, diagnose, manage, and treat patients.

Ting Shih, CEO and founder of mHealth company ClickMedix, says smartphones and wearables are perhaps the most important life-saving technologies in the health industry today, in part because they “are affordable enough that almost anybody in the world can have access to one.” He says wearables enable the healthcare industry to “collect data as never before. We can actually get to the next level of healthcare delivery.” This is changing the world.

Learn how to bring new technologies and services together to power digital transformation by downloading The IoT Imperative for Consumer Industries. Explore how to bring Industry 4.0 insights into your business today by reading Industry 4.0: What’s Next?

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Rise of ‘smart wearables’ helps bolster overall market in Q3, says IDC

The total shipment volume of wearables globally saw a 7.3% year over year in Q3/2017 amounting to 26.3 million units, according to the International Data Corporation (IDC).

According to IDC’s Worldwide Quarterly Wearable Device Tracker, while the overall wearable market is witnessing a consistent growth trend, a specific growth trend is noticed in the smart wearables (devices that have the ability to run third party applications) market but it is missing from the market associated with basic wearables (devices that cannot run third party applications).

For the quarter, the first place is jointly occupied by Fitbit and Xiaomi, followed by Apple, Huawei and Garmin. Fitbit and Xiaomi’s shipment volumes stood at 3.6 million, followed by Apple with 2.7 million, Huawei 1.6 million and Garmin 1.3 million. In terms of market share, Fitbit and Xiaomi led with 13.7%, Apple 10.3%, Huawei 6%, and Garmin 4.9%.

Ramon T. Llamas, research manager for IDC’s wearables team, said: "Basic wearables – with devices coming from Fitbit, Xiaomi, and Huawei – helped establish the wearables market. But as tastes and demands have changed towards multi-purpose devices – like smartwatches from Apple, Fossil, and Samsung – vendors find themselves at a crossroads to adjust accordingly to capture growth opportunity and mindshare."

According to Canalys figures from last month, Apple has managed to reoccupy the lead position in the wearable band market due to the launch of the Apple Watch Series 3. A Canalys analyst said that in Q3/2017, the iPhone maker shipped 800,000 cellular-enabled Apple Watch units. The analyst Jason Low commented: “Strong demand for the LTE-enabled Apple Watch Series 3 has dispelled service providers’ doubts about the cellular smartwatch not appealing to customers.”

In the meantime, the US wearables market will face a major threat from its Chinese counterpart as it will be overtaken by China’s market this year, according to eMarketer. As reported by The Drum, it has been projected by that 21% or 144.3 million residents of China will wear devices similar to the Apple Watch compared to 20.4% of US residents.

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Change is coming to ‘stagnant’ wearables market as heart rate sensors claim accurate monitoring

Today’s continuous monitoring tech is shifting the consumer mindset away from a reactive monitoring approach to a proactive one. And this is having a dramatic effect on the market for wearable technologies, as Jeremy Cowan reports. 

Instead of waiting for annual visits to the  doctor to get results for blood pressure and other vital signs, consumers want real-time information about their health status. So says Sui Shieh who is vice president, Industrial and Healthcare Business Unit at one wearables manufacturer, Maxim Integrated.

This shift is causing an increased demand for accurate, small, and low-power wearable devices, said to be an important enabler for this new way of thinking. As continuous monitoring and preventive healthcare become more common, both technology providers and health practitioners must embrace and accommodate these new demands to be successful, he believes.

“Global healthcare costs are high and growing,” says Sui, “with spend now running at 10% of gross domestic product (GDP) – in the US it’s $ 9 trillion. The consumer mindset is moving from reeactive to proactive, with prevention and early detection (of illness) by fitness apps, and chronic disease monitoring” with healthcare devices. But, as he goes on to say, fitness apps generally give little information; that’s why the market has been stagnant for two years.

“The market is there,” he says, “with six million users in 2016 rising to 50 million in 2021, according to analysts, Berg Insight. Our customers are now looking for clinical-grade performance (with US Food & Drug Administration certification), the longest battery life, a small size, and high accuracy.”

Sui Shieh: Wearables market is shifting towards prevention and early detection of illness

Maxim believes that it’s now able to meet these requirements. Through compact, low power solutions, it has a new range of devices that enable accurate monitoring of vital signs to monitor wellness/fitness and prevent health problems before they even begin.

Maxim’s portfolio of sensors for wearable health and fitness applications allows consumers to accurately monitor a variety of key vital signs while being mindful of low power (for longer battery life) and small size (for convenience and comfort). The MAX86140 and MAX86141 can be used to measure PPG signals on the wrist, finger, and ear to detect heart rate, heart rate variability, and pulse oximetry.

The MAX30001 measures ECG and BioZ on the chest and wrist to detect heart rate, respiration, and arrhythmias. Compared to competitive solutions, the MAX86140 and MAX86141 is claimed to require less than half the power and is approximately one third smaller, while the MAX30001 requires approximately half the power in almost half the size. By collecting beat to beat data about the heart, these solutions collect accurate data so users can recognize important symptoms when they first begin. In addition, the MAX30001 meets IEC60601-2-47, clinical ECG standards.

“The convergence of clinical grade diagnostics in form factors small enough to integrate into all sorts of smart, everyday clothing is impressive,” said Adrian Straka, director of Hardware and Manufacturing, SKIIN. “The ultra-small MAX30001 enables SKIIN’s bio-sensing underwear to monitor and track health […]

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New wearables options for UnitedHealthcare customers

US healthcare company UnitedHealthcare is incorporating new wearables into its Motion wellness programme, with help from Qualcomm Life. 

Participants in UnitedHealthcare Motion, a national wellness programme open to employers with self-funded and fully insured health plans in the US, have collectively walked more than 130 million steps and earned more than $ 19 million in rewards since the plan was launched in 2016.

Now, they will have a wider range of tracking devices to choose from, with the announcement that UnitedHealthcare and Qualcomm Incorporated, through its subsidiary Qualcomm Life, have integrated new wearables from Samsung and Garmin into the programme.

Read more: Healthcare applications to drive wearable device boom

Watch your F.I.T levels

According to UnitedHealthcare, around 66 percent of participants enrolled in the Motion program register their devices, and of these, a similar proportion stay active with the program for more than one year. This enables them to earn up to $ 4 per day in financial incentives, based on the program’s so-called ‘F.I.T’ goals. These are:

  • Frequency – 500 steps within seven minutes in six separate periods during the day;
  • Intensity – 3,000 steps within 30 minutes;
  • Tenacity – 10,000 total steps each day.

The Samsung Gear Fit2Pro and Gear Sport, along with the Garmin Vivosmart 3 have been integrated and validated with Qualcomm Life’s 2net platform for medical-grade connectivity.

These trackers, which are available to plan participants at no additional charge or through upgrade options that enable people to purchase leading activity trackers at preferred prices, have been customized to enable users to see on their wrists how they are tracking against the program’s three daily F.I.T. goals.

According to UnitedHealthcare, research suggests that people who consistently achieve the F.I.T. goals tend to improve their health and reduce their medical expenses – but many of us overestimate how much exercise we get each week by more than 50 minutes, and underestimate sedentary time by more than two hours, hence the need for wearable fitness trackers and cold, hard data. 

Read more: US health insurer Aetna considers Apple Watch partnership

Adding to Fitbit and Striiv

The new activity trackers are available to Unitedhealthcare Motion participants via a dedicated website, along with previously available trackers from Fitbit and Striiv.

“The enhancements to UnitedHealthcare Motion enable the program to offer companies and their employees more digital health and wellness resources that are personalized, connected and intuitive,” said Sam Ho, MD, chief medical officer of UnitedHealthcare. “We are expanding the portfolio of available devices to make UnitedHealthcare Motion more flexible, convenient and consumer friendly.”

US employers are expected to incorporate more than 13 million wearable and fitness tracking devices into their wellness programs by 2018, according to technology consultancy Endeavors Partners. 

Read more: Bank of America, FitPay partner to speed up wearable payments

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How voice calls could move beyond smart watches into a range of wearables

Next month will be the third anniversary of Samsung Gear smartwatch, one of the first mass-market wearables with phone capabilities. We’ve since seen two successor devices from Samsung as well as several Android Wear watches with voice capabilities, and most recently, the Apple Watch Series 3 with LTE.

I’ve been using the latter for nearly two weeks, having purchased one. I’ve also tested many of the Samsung and Android Wear devices over the past few years. Throughout all of these experiences, one thing is becoming clear to me: The decoupling of voice calls from actual phones is gaining momentum and it’s quite liberating. I don’t have to worry about carrying (or dropping) an expensive phone when leaving the house to walk the dog or run errands. This connected freedom, combined with technology advances can lead to brand new opportunities for future wearables of every shape, size and budget.

Before looking to the future though, it makes sense to look back in the past. How did we get to where the “Dick Tracy communicator” is essentially now a reality? The short answer: radical evolution in chip, radio, network and other technologies.

Smaller and faster “things” over the past 25 years

For example, the current state of taking phone calls on the wrist couldn’t happen without the gradually disappearing SIM card. You may not remember what SIM cards looked like in the early 1990’s so let me refresh your memory. Take a credit card out of your wallet. Go ahead, I’ll wait. Got it? Good. The first SIM card I had in my mobile phone was exactly the same size as what you have in your hand and had a surface area of 3,512 square millimeters.

It truly was a “card” although only a small part of it had the electrical circuits to store subscriber information and contacts. In 1996, we saw the useless plastic card go away, leaving just the gold circuitry, but even that was big by today’s standards. Seven years later, the micro-SIM appeared, making the module even smaller. Then in 2012, the nano-SIM used in most phones today arrived, but even these take up more space than necessary in a wearable device, so the industry has turned to embedded-SIMs, or e-SIMs for today’s voice-enabled wearable devices. These e-SIMs measure 5 mm x 6 mm, or 30 square millimeters, which is 100x less area than the first SIM cards.

Even as the SIM cards for voice devices got smaller, our mobile broadband networks became faster. Fifteen years ago, I thought the EVDO cellular modem I used was blazing fast. And compared to prior wireless technologies, it was.  At roughly 2 to 3 Mbps. Now, we’re hearing about Gigabit-capable networks — that’s 1,000 Mbps — phones and tablets, or roughly a 500x increase in transfer speeds.

I’m sure I don’t need to illustrate the advances in mobile chips in detail, but for a simple example, Apple’s touts its new A11 Bionic chip in the iPhone 8, 8 Plus and X phones as 70 percent faster than its predecessor, the A10 Fusion. And according to Apple, the 2016 A10 Fusion is 120 times quicker than the chip in the original 2007 iPhone.

Everything we need for voice calls in wearables is here

Add all these developments up and combine them with other recent evolutionary ideas and you have the perfect storm for bringing voice calls to any number of form factors.

For example, moving voice from traditional cellular technology to VoLTE, or Voice over LTE, completes the “voice is just another form of data” transition. And even though many mobile broadband networks are blazing fast (and getting faster) you don’t need much bandwidth, i.e.: throughput speed for VoLTE calls. Using a new codec — capable of HD Voice quality — a call only needs about 49 kbps of bandwidth: 24 kbps for the voice information and the remainder for overhead. Note, that’s not Megabits per second, but kilobits per second.

That reminds of me of the often minimal bandwidth requirements for today’s IoT devices. These don’t send gobs of data through the internet like web pages and video streams on a phone, tablet or connected TV. Instead, small bits of information, often only when there’s actually information to send or receive. Indeed, we have new networks just for the internet of things that use much less bandwidth than our mobile devices. Think CAT-M1, Sigfox and narrowband IoT, or NB-IoT networks. It makes me wonder if we eventually see mobile “slowband” networks just for VoLTE and/or messaging wearables in the future.

Of course, the more devices that can handle phone calls, the more phone numbers we might have, right? Nope, that obstacle is going away too thanks to advanced call forwarding and number linking carrier services. My Apple Watch does have its own unique phone number, but it’s tied to my main T-Mobile phone number. T-Mobile calls their number linking service Digits, while AT&T has NumberSync; other carriers have their own branded solutions.

What are the remaining challenges?

New networks aside, there are still some issues to tackle before we see wearable communicators in various form factors similar to today’s Bluetooth headphones, fashionable connected jewelry and other devices we put on instead of carrying around.

First and foremost is battery life. That’s the one technology that has made the least progress relative to everything else in a voice call wearable.

Currently, using the Apple Watch for voice calls roughly drains the battery by 1 percent per minute in my testing, so there’s more work to be done here. Some of this challenge could be mitigated by application specific processors that are engineered for efficiency of a given task such as voice calls. Frankly, it doesn’t take much processing power to run the basics of a cellular phone these days. Nor would the chip need to be large. The S3 and W2 system on a chip in the Apple Watch Series 3 with LTE isn’t much bigger than the e-SIM, for example.

Then there’s the need for an antenna to stay connected to an LTE network. Apple has wrapped the antenna of the Apple Watch Series 3 around the edge of the display. It works well, but we’ll need smaller amplified antennas if we want smaller wearables with voice capabilities.

Once those two challenges are mitigated however, you might be able to leave your phone behind and simply take calls from a fashionable bracelet, your glasses or some other everyday device similar to today’s headphones that can store music for playback and just leave the phone behind. After all, not everyone wears a watch.

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