Just a year or two ago most people didn’t even know what the term “wearable” meant. Today, they are one of the largest growing technology segments, and are predicted to continue growing exponentially. Estimates put the wearables market at over $173 Billion by 2020. As this technology continues to improve, more uses are being invented and implemented, including in the realm of health care and, as I’ll focus on in this post, clinical trial research.
What Are Wearables?
Wearable technology can be defined as technology that can be worn on the body as implants or accessories. Popular wearables today include wireless and Bluetooth headsets or ear buds, smart watches, fitness bands, etc.
Wearable devices such as activity trackers are a good example of what's called the Internet of Things (IoT) —where ‘things,’ such as electronics, software, sensors, and connectivity, are effectors that enable exchange of data (including data quality), through the internet, with a manufacturer/operator/ other connected devices, without requiring human intervention.
Wearable technology has a variety of applications, which grow as the field and technology expand. Wearable devices have gained prominence in the realm of consumer electronics with the popularization of the smartwatch and activity tracker, but wearable technology is also being incorporated into navigation systems, advanced textiles, and healthcare.
Wearables Are Here to Stay
The market for wearables is only projected to grow and improve as the entire IoT industry blossoms over the next several years. Just about every day, new groundbreaking statistics are reported in the wearable industry:
- At the end of August 2017, the International Data Corporation reported that wearable shipments grew 10%, reaching 26 million units for the second quarter.
- The biggest boost in activity was the Apple Watch and Android Wear, which increased 61%.
- 310 million wearable devices were sold worldwide in 2017, an increase of 17% from 2016, according to the forecast by Gartner.
- Wearable sales are flooding the market; 505 million units were sold in the last four years.
- Gartner predicts a total 41.5 million smartwatches to be sold in 2018.
- Tractica forecasts a continued increase of wearable sales through 2021, with total shipments reaching 560 million in 2021, which would translate to estimates sales of $95.3 billion in 2021.
Here’s the breakdown of numbers of devices projected to be sold in four years for wearables by category:
- 206 million – Bluetooth headset
- 81 million – smart watch
- 67 million – Head-mounted display
- 64 million – Wristband
- 59 million – Other fitness monitor
- 22 million – Sports watch
- 6 million – Body-worn camera
What can all these statistics mean for wearables in healthcare? Only that as wearables become second nature to us, it should come as no surprise that they be incorporated into healthcare and clinical trials.
Wearables Used in Clinical Research Trials
Wearables are now being implemented in clinical trial situations, making it easier to collect data and easier for people to participate, while reducing costs for clinical research organizations like ours. They also reduce costs for the pharmaceutical companies that employ clinical research organizations to conduct studies. Participants in clinical trials can now participate by just wearing a wristband or smartwatch that collects data while they go about their everyday lives. With wearables, participants can make fewer visits and don’t require in-clinic monitoring because the wearable devices transmit the collected health data remotely back to the clinical research organization. The technology behind wearables also helps with calculations that previously would have been done manually by the researchers (which left room for error and increased cost).
So what does use of wearable technologies in clinical trials look like? When the Apple Watch launched in 2015, it came with a pre-loaded app called The Research Kit. This application allows users to download any number of clinical trials (a list of which is automatically updated as research projects become available). Apple Watch owners can sign up for any of these clinical trials by downloading the study; data is then collected from them anonymously and recorded for use in the clinical trials. For the first time, this makes clinical trial participation easily and instantly available to millions of users; and participants don’t have to do much of anything. Their health data is collected automatically through the Apple Watch.
John Wilbanks, the developer of a Parkinson’s App for The Research Kit called mPower, is quoted as saying “After six hours, we had 7,406 people enrolled in our Parkinson’s study. [The] largest one ever before that was 1,700 people.” Bloomberg reported that Stanford University’s cardiovascular trial attracted more volunteers in one day after releasing their MyHeart Counts App than it would normally acquire in a year. As Apple Watch sensors and measurement tools improve along with the rest of the industry, the potential for improved health care and increased clinical trial participation is exponential.
The entire IoT industry is growing fast; it is likely that soon healthcare-related wearables won’t only be limited to users’ wrists. For example, ingestibles (medications in pill form that can be tracked throughout the body) were just recently approved by the FDA. Some ingestibles will not only monitor if and when patients are taking their medications, but will also be able to record other metrics such as electrocardiogram activity, diagnostic imaging, and more. With the development of things like ingestibles, smart fabrics, intelligent sensors, and smart contact lenses, there will be myriad options for going beyond just fitness monitors and smartwatches and incorporating wearables into healthcare and research.
Michael Sydes is Global Marketing and Sales Manager for George Clinical. As the Global Marketing Manager at George Clinical, he leads the global marketing teams efforts to increase the visibility and viability of the George Clinical brand. George Clinical is a leading independent Asia-Pacific based clinical research organisation (CRO) with global capabilities, differentiated by scientific leadership, innovation and extensive investigator networks.
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