What are wearables and why are they revolutionizing the health sector?

Devices that are worn on some part of the body, also known as wearables, appeared a few years ago and everything indicates that they will stay forever. There are different presentations: watches, bracelets, glasses, rings and smart clothing. This is wearable technology that is transforming the way people take care of their health.

The British newspaper The Economist recently published an article entitled The quantified self (The quantified self, in Spanish) in which he points out that wearables are so powerful that they have the capacity to record more than 7,500 physiological and behavioral variables. In addition, he explains that with the help of artificial intelligence, a key technology in the operation of these devices, in the future they will be able to change medical care from three points of view: early diagnosis, personalized treatment and the management of chronic diseases.

On this last point, he said that can transform chronic diseases like diabetes. “About 80% of diseases can be prevented by changing the way people lead their lives.”

But that future seems to be just around the corner. For José Julián Garcés, a medical researcher in the mathematical modeling group at Eafit University, wearables are already transforming the way people take care of themselves, because they make them more aware of their well-being. That is, before they paid more attention to their illnesses only when they went to the doctor or while exercising.

“These devices have advanced features that even allow detecting the heart rate, so when the patient arrives at the medical consultation with this information, the processes can be personalized, because a specific treatment begins according to how the physical activity has been, blood pressure status or sleep patterns”, said the doctor.

Added to this is the opinion of Alejandro Betancur, director of technology at Wearables LAB, a Colombian company that creates devices for health and safety at work: “What we are seeing today is that people want more information about their health status” .

It is precisely at this point that wearables, supported by 4.0 technologies (artificial intelligence, machine learning, big data) come to play a relevant role: They are the ones that provide this data on daily activities that in this case are related to physical exercise and health.

In another section of the article in The Economist it is explained that adopting small exercise habits is good for health: just 1,000 steps (0.7 km) a day reduces mortality by 636% depending on the degree of sedentary lifestyle.

A Colombian case

Without going any further, the Colombian company Wearables LAB developed a device that allows monitor posture and collect data in real time to correct poor posture during activities that take place at work or study.

The device consists of a kind of harness that has a movement sensor specifically programmed to send a vibrating alert when the person is in a bad position and thus knows that it must be corrected. Additionally, the sensor is connected to a mobile app in which the data collected by the algorithm arrives and is later analyzed by the professionals at Wearables LAB, who send a report to the user about their postural activity.

“What we do is allow the person to maintain a correct posture and analyze its data, through a crossroads of information interpreted by artificial intelligence algorithms, it is said what is most relevant about it and we give tips so that improve your body position,” he said.

The benefits
According to Garcés, when talking about health prevention with the use of a wearable, what happens, basically, it is to avoid a bad outcome or the occurrence of a disease. For example, a patient who is controlled with these devices allows different physiological variables to be known and it is easier to find strategies to avoid developing any pathology.

From the control side, as these devices have the ability to detect (for example, cardiac arrhythmia) it helps patients and doctors to define the indicated treatment to manage the disease and prevent a worse outcome in the future. Smart watches, for example, send alerts when they discover heart rate abnormalities that help you stay more vigilant.

“When this arrhythmia is detected early, the patient can start treatment much earlier and avoid consequences such as a cerebrovascular event,” said the doctor.

But not everything is good. Garcés said that a disadvantage in the use of these devices is the overconfidence of some people who use them: “There are those who consider that because they have a certain phone, band or watch that detects cardiac arrhythmias no need to visit the doctor”.

More than lengthening life, these technologies help improve quality of life when used well. “The data allows us to develop probabilistic models and strengthen the systems that allow doctors to make clinical decisions in order to intervene earlier in patients and thus be able to extend people’s lives,” said doctor Gárces.

Regarding wearables, there is optimism: in 2020 alone, 200 million devices were sold and by 2026 it is expected to double.

How to get the most out of your smart watch?

Galaxy Watch 4

It has three health sensors that allow you to monitor blood pressure, detect an irregular heartbeat and measure the level of blood oxygenation. In addition, it calculates body composition: by placing two fingers next to the clock, the user receives, in about 15 seconds, 2,400 measurements that include skeletal muscle mass, body water and body fat percentage.

Apple Watch 7

Among the options provided by this watch: check the heart rate with the Heart Rate app; create a bedtime routine with the Sleep app and lets you detect if you’ve had a hard fall and contact emergency services if you’re unable to move. Apple Watch Series 7 comes with an advanced app and sensor to measure blood oxygen levels.

Huawei Watch GT3

It has more than 100 training modes such as running, cycling, walking, swimming and rope skipping. Other functions: monitor blood oxygen saturation, monitor sleep, regulate breathing, record the menstrual cycle, among others. Also, set goals: time to get up, drink water and exercise.