From fitness trackers to smart watches and health apps, wearable technology has allowed individuals to directly improve their health and self-monitor some of their medical conditions. Wearables have the potential to provide medical professionals with much more accurate data, enabling them to monitor patients in real-time and respond to medical issues more quickly and effectively than ever before. A recent study by researchers at the Northwestern University found a 44 per cent decrease in sick days for employees that were using a wearable technology on a daily basis.
While wearables have already been employed across the healthcare industry to improve diagnosis and monitor patient wellbeing through various wellness programmes, the potential to further improve and save people’s lives is enormous. In particular, they can have a huge impact on caregivers, who are often ‘on call’ 24 hours a day.
Caregiving can be an overwhelming, full-time job, and is one which is often undertaken by family members, who take on new responsibilities when a loved one is diagnosed with a life-altering condition. It can be exhausting for family members to manage the emotional stress while making sure that their loved ones’ everyday key processes such as bathing, and eating are accomplished. For example, research by the Journal of Palliative Medicine showed that the diagnosis of motor neurone disease not only has a devastating effect on the patient, but it can have a serious impact on the mental health of the family members, with studies suggesting an increase in depression in caregivers as the burden of care increases as the disease progresses.
While wearable technology may not yet be able to take away disabilities or the emotional stress attached to it, it can help carers to reduce stress and better manage their time. Here are three examples of how wearable technology can ease carers’ strain.
This technology can remove the burden of being always ‘on call’ for carers by remotely monitoring a patient’s conditions, as the name suggests. RPM can be monitored via a headset worn by the patient, that has sensors attached to it and can notify the carer with an alert if the person is having an issue or an emergency, for example. Remote monitoring can allow patients to feel a sense of independence while 24-hour monitoring can prevent potential issues before they become too serious. For carers, it can add a sense of comfort because they know that they will be notified as soon as their loved one has an issue, and as a result they can respond to it immediately.
Wearables can transmit patients’ data directly to their doctors, which can help them to better manage their illnesses and avoid any sudden issues. For example, a medical nurse monitoring a patient remotely might notice a slight change in the patient’s heart beat who might suffer from a heart disease and therefore can intervene before it fully develops into something serious. For carers, knowing that their loved ones are being monitored, and accessing clinical services in real time if needed, can reduce stress and give them peace of mind.
In addition, the data that wearables collect can be used to better diagnose diseases and, in the future, potentially prevent them completely. This information could include a wide range of parameters, including a patient’s heart rhythm, breathing patterns and the amount and quality of sleep a patient is getting. This information could even be used in medical trials, which could generate new innovation in medical treatments. The amount of data that wearables passively collect could produce a more detailed picture of the effect an illness or treatment could achieve in a patient’s everyday life.
There are a number of conditions – such as locked-in syndrome, in which a person’s body is completely paralysed but the consciousness and brain activity has remained. While there are a handful of devices available helping locked-in patients to communicate, such as the one that Stephen Hawking had, they are often very large in size and not accessible when a patient wakes up. Wearable technology can introduce a new dimension of communication for locked-in patients to communicate with their loved ones again.
Being able to wear a lightweight device, rather than being attached to a large computer, can make a huge difference in patients’ everyday life. It can give patients a sense of freedom upon awakening because it allows them to communicate immediately. For carers, this means that patients can quickly notify them if they need assistance.
The EyeControl, which is the world’s first screen less wearable communication device allows locked-in patients to communicate with their loved ones again. Using audio feedback and eye gestures, the EyeControl is a standalone portable device that allows for immediate and around-the-clock communication. The device features a shortcut for patients to call for help and enables them to quickly notify their carer if they are chocking or struggling to breathe for example. This gives carers a sense of security, knowing that their patient can call them if they are out of the room.
The popularity and usage of wearable technology devices is expected to rise significantly over the next decade. Wearables have significantly improved the healthcare sector and will continue to do so in the near future. They can enable remote patient monitoring for carers and medical professionals, improve analysis of patients’ health status and give them a sense of freedom and independence.
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