What Apple, Google smartwatches are learning about our health

Customers try out Apple Watch devices at the Apple Marunouchi store on September 7, 2019 in Tokyo, Japan.

Tomohiro Ohsumi | Getty Images

Fitness trackers from companies like Apple, Amazon, and Google are dramatically shifting from low-tech devices that used to count steps to now become the hottest in personal health.

Tracking fitness and workout data for personal use or sharing with friends can be useful and fun. But there is growing interest in integrating a wider range of medical data into the digital health ecosystem – building on the dramatic increase in remote telehealth services needed during the Covid pandemic – 19 – by making the information of individuals accessible to doctors and hospitals within the framework of electronic medicine. health records.

The wearable device market evolved over ten years ago with basic tracking devices for fitness, training, and sports activities. Today, nearly 30% of Americans now use a portable health device, many of which now have the ability to track, monitor and transmit data on heart rate and rhythm, blood pressure, body temperature, blood sugar , the quality of sleep and even warning signs of a Covid-19 infection.

Fitbit helped start the trend in 2009 with a clip-on gadget that tracked the wearer’s movement, sleep, and calories. This model has evolved into a bracelet that over the years has added more biosensors and Bluetooth connectivity for downloading data to smartphones. Google’s parent company Alphabet acquired Fitbit for $ 2.1 billion in January.

Apple entered space in 2015 with the launch of its watch, since adding a host of health-related functions and apps and creating a platform for third-party developers to create tools used not only by consumers, but also by healthcare organizations and researchers to access and analyze the data captured on their smartwatches. It has also aligned with fitness companies like Nike, Strava and Adidas to allow them to sync their activity apps with the watch. In 2020, the Apple Watch generated nearly $ 13 billion in sales, capturing 65% of the global smartwatch market in terms of revenue, estimates research firm Strategy Analytics.

This booming market has attracted other Big Tech players, including Amazon, maker of the Halo smart band, and Huawei, which unveiled its Watch 3 this year. There are also a variety of other smartwatches in the industry. consumer electronics, including Samsung, Garmin and Withings.

In the pure play category, the Finnish startup Oura designed a ring integrated with biosensors to monitor sleep, heart rate and body temperature. In May, the company announced a $ 100 million Series C investment round, bringing its total funding to more than $ 148 million. And Peloton would have provided a digital heart rate armband.

The global market for wearable health and fitness devices – including watches, bracelets, rings, skin patches, eyeglasses and sensor-loaded clothing – has reached more than $ 36 billion in 2020, according to Fortune Business Insights, and is expected to exceed $ 114 billion by 2028 at a CAGR of 15.4%. Deloitte Global predicts that the smartwatch and smart patch market segment will ship 320 million units globally by 2022, a figure likely to rise to 440 million by 2024.

“There is a lot of money in this area coming from venture capital and private investment sources,” said Paul Silverglate, vice president and US technology leader at Deloitte.

Several medical technology companies have introduced smart patches, penny-sized bands that adhere to the skin and use microscopic needles that act as biosensors and deliver drugs. BioIntelliSense, based in Redwood City, Calif., Created the BioSticker, worn on the upper left chest for continuous monitoring and data capture of respiratory rate, resting heart rate and body temperature. skin. Insulet, a public company based in Acton, Mass., Has developed OmniPod, a patch that serves as an insulin pump.

Sensory clothing also appeared. Hexoskin, of Montreal, has developed a line of smart shirts that collect cardiac, respiratory and activity data, and feed it to an iOS or Android compatible device. The company has partnered with the Canadian Space Agency on an alien version, Astroskin, to track the vital signs of astronauts as they exit this world.

Provide accurate data and information

Beyond technological capabilities, there is now the critical issue of efficiency – of the devices, the apps that go with them, and the petabytes of data generated – that is leading wearable makers to coordinate with independent researchers to see. if they work as advertised.

Joshua Hagen, associate research professor in the Department of Integrated Systems Engineering at Ohio State University, studied biosensors more than a decade ago in Air Force research labs “before portable devices did. really explode onto the stage, ”he said. Hagen then began testing devices on elite athletes, monitoring their performance data. “There are a ton of devices out there, but first and foremost we have to trust the data that comes out of them,” he said.

Hagen discovered that the part of the body where a device is worn is important. The Polar heart monitor chest belt, for example, used since the early 1980s, “has been validated in a thousand different ways.” And the wrist is good for measuring heart rate while resting. “But the fingers are a very interesting place,” he said, referring to his studies on the Oura ring. In one, it had the second highest accuracy among devices, with chest belts ranking number one.

Another study, launched after the Covid coup, found that by applying an algorithm to data from Oura users, Hagen’s team could identify warning signs three days before infection with the coronavirus. A separate proof of concept study, examining the effectiveness of various wearable devices, has shown that they can detect the onset of fever, a pervasive symptom of Covid and other infections.

In November 2019, Apple partnered with research groups to launch three health studies using the Apple Watch. A project on women’s health, in collaboration with the Harvard School of Public Health and the National Institutes of Health, aims to advance the understanding of menstrual cycles and their relation to various health problems, including infertility, osteoporosis and the menopausal transition. Apple’s Heart and Movement Study, with Brigham and Women’s Hospital and the American Heart Association, explores how certain mobility signals and details about heart rate and rhythm could serve as potential warning signs of atrial fibrillation , or Afib, heart disease or decline in mobility.

How might physicians use the data

The ultimate scenario for wearable health devices envisions the general public wearing smart devices, with proven effectiveness, that continuously upload vital data to primary care providers who follow patients in real time, monitor their condition. general health and respond to emergencies. To make that leap, however, doctors need to be confident that the devices are working, that patients are using them correctly, and that the data is reliable.

To achieve this goal, the American Medical Association (AMA) conducted a survey of physicians to gauge their opinions on a variety of digital health tools, including wearable devices. Over 87% of those surveyed see at least some benefit in their overall usage, especially portable devices and telehealth devices. Yet doctors have also said that there are “must-haves” digital tools need to turn their enthusiasm into adoption, including improved efficiency and increased protection of the privacy and security of patient data. “Physicians’ enthusiasm for the technology is directly related to a solution’s ability to help them take better care of patients,” said Meg Barron, WADA’s vice president of digital health strategy.

For marketers, the most critical factor will be whether people actually buy and use clothing. “Healthcare is a killer app category for consumers,” especially as the Internet of Things emerges, said Lauren Martin, senior Internet and media analyst at Needham & Company. It will be increasingly useful if users can be monitored when they are away from the home, she said, and then have their data uploaded to their electronic medical records.

And while it’s still too early to pick winners and losers, Martin said, “Apple has a game because they have this great distribution network through their physical stores. So they can push the watch when you walk in. in the store to buy an iPhone Amazon can link its health devices to Alexa [smart speakers]. “

Martin doesn’t rely on free agents, however, and is eager to see what happens at the January Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas (if the Covid variants allow it). “It will be interesting to find out what new companies are doing compared to what is already in the market,” she said.

Indeed, “Who are you wearing?” Could become the next fashion axiom applied to healthcare.

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Fitbit Sense smartwatch on a man's arm, showing ECG heart health function, San Ramon, Calif., October 8, 2020 (Photo by Smith Collection / Gado / Getty Images)

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