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wearable smart health technology

Wearable tech tools poised to have big impact on healthcare sector

March 17, 2014

The advent of wearable technology is poised to have a major impact in the coming years. As numerous observers have noted, Google Glass and other tools will make it easier than ever for consumers to browse the Internet, shop, communicate with one another and more. Yet that's not all. Wearable technology and related IT services are also likely to have a significant effect on numerous other industries.

Among the most important trends on the horizon is the use of wearable tech in the healthcare sector. As InformationWeek contributor Susan M. Reese recently highlighted, these tools have the potential to greatly improve the performance and capabilities of a wide range of care providers.

Wearable tech and hospital upgrades
As Reese noted, one of the more serious issues that many hospitals contend with is nurse fatigue. She cited a recent Kronos survey which found that more than two-thirds of participating healthcare professionals felt that fatigue had a negative impact on their ability to perform on at least one occasion. A similar percentage said they had nearly made a mistake while working due to fatigue, while more than one-quarter admitted that they actually did so.

According to Reese, wearable technology is poised to significantly reduce these issues. She suggested that nurses can wear bracelets or uniforms with sewn-in sensors that monitor their vital signs, providing nurse managers with real-time insight into these care workers' physical well being. Supervisors will even be able to receive alerts when this data suggests a nurse is becoming too fatigued to perform his or her job satisfactorily, and take the appropriate action to ensure that the tired healthcare worker receives a respite before making a mistake.

Furthermore, the insight gleaned from this biometric data will enable healthcare decision-makers to make more intelligent, informed choices concerning nurse staffing levels and schedules, reducing the overall risk of fatigue-driven errors.

Better awareness
Reese also suggested that wearable technology will help healthcare providers maximize the efficiency and effectiveness of their organizations. For example, if all personnel possess wearable technology tools, healthcare leaders can know precisely where specialists are at any given moment. If an urgent case arises, these leaders can make a critical decision as to where to send the patient and whom to call as quickly possible.

Additionally, healthcare workers, organizations and patients will be better able to share important patient data, leading to more informed treatment decisions, Reese asserted.

Patient behavior
It is important to note that wearable technology's impact on healthcare is not limited to the professional side. As a PSFK Labs report recently highlighted, these tools can also help patients develop healthier lifestyles.

For example, the report pointed to a clothing company developing full-body workout suits that contain a variety of sensors to track fitness metrics while exercising. The suit sends this information to the user's smartphone, where they can view how well their body responded. These suits also come with wristbands which visualize bio-data in real-time as the individual exercises, to allow for immediate changes.

The report noted that researchers at Lancaster University in the United Kingdom created a wearable device that monitors the "wear and tear" of the user's key blood cell layers.

"Due to its proximity to the circulatory and lymphatic systems, the endothelium offers a proxy to their overall health, giving insight into how a patient's body is aging, particularly with individuals who are predisposed to cardiovascular diseases," the report explained. "This process offers a new approach in estimating a patient's cardiovascular age which can be helpful when used in contrast with the patient's overall health, allowing for early discovery of conditions and the ability to take necessary steps to avoid further complications."

In this and many other cases, wearable technology will combine with new IT services to help both patients and healthcare providers gain more in-depth, up-to-date insight into individuals' physical conditions. Patients can use this information to make better exercise and diet decisions while healthcare professionals can formulate more precise treatment regimens. However, in order for healthcare providers to truly take advantage of these possibilities, they will need to make a firm commitment to updating and improving their existing IT services to better align with wearable technology.

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