The healthcare landscape is rapidly evolving, and the role of newly emerging advanced technologies is increasingly important across the board. While many consumers and healthcare professionals are familiar with some of the ways technology is advancing care and patient outcomes today, such as wearable heart and blood pressure monitors or telemedicine, most may be unaware of the next round of hyper-advanced technologies that will drive tomorrow’s innovations.
Wearables: The First Wave in Health Tracking
Early leaders in the wearables sector include Fitbit, which surpassed more than 25 million active users of Fitbit trackers in 2017 and Under Armour, which is rolling out new products such as smart running shoes targeted at Under Armour’s community of more than 225 million users. Both brands have made an indelible mark on the health and technology industry, consumer use, and have opened the door for many other innovative brands, too. Today, we’re seeing newer market players, who are focusing on specific segments, such as Bloomlife with tailored technologies for tracking during pregnancy, and Zembro with trackers targeted to active seniors.
Overall the wearables market is set to triple in size in the next five years and become worth more than $25 billion, according to industry analyst firm, CCS Insight. Its new global forecast for wearable devices—which includes smartwatches, fitness trackers, augmented and virtual reality headsets and wearable cameras—projects the market to grow from 84 million units in 2015 to 245 million units in 2019.
Nanotech: Enabling the Next Wave
Going forward, nanotech R&D collaboration is at the heart of what’s to come on the med-tech frontier to support and drive to market new device innovations that will deliver benefits to patients and help take the healthcare ecosystem to the next level.
Key among these nanotech-level advances are non-contact sensing capabilities such as radar, spectral imaging, capacitive sensing, and other physiological technologies. These chip-level innovations are opening the door for much greater breadth and accuracy of data collection than is possible with today’s wearables, while simultaneously increasing flexibility by eliminating the need for users to wear devices that physically contact their bodies.
Recent years have already seen sweeping changes in how both the medical community and individual users view the use of data as a key part of maintaining healthy regimens and identifying emerging risk factors. For millions of consumers, the ability to constantly monitor vital signs, sleep patterns and exercise activity has radically changed how we think about maintaining a healthy lifestyle. This growing fascination with on-going access to personal health information is already transforming the way we live and how we interact with the medical ecosystem. But we’ve only scratched the surface of what’s possible over the longer run.
Digitally integrating large amounts of physiological information is key to provide the “missing link” between data collection and driving the behavioral changes that can make a real difference for health outcomes. Because everyone is unique, self-motivation alone is not always enough to sustain healthy changes. The ability to integrate an individual’s health information into a comprehensive predictive analytics outcome will make disease prediction and prevention a reality.
In addition to helping individuals better understand and act on their personal health info, the digital integration of a diverse range of data, subject to appropriate privacy controls, will improve the ability of the entire healthcare ecosystem to provide better service to patients, enhance ongoing health research, and to potentially lower overall costs of healthcare delivery.
New Nanotech Health Sensing Technologies
The new “obscure technologies” arising from current nano-tech research and collaboration will play a pivotal role in the collection of a broader range and higher quality of health information than can be captured by today’s first generation of contact-based wearables. Key enabling technologies for this leap forward in the med-tech arena include non-contact approaches, such as radar-based sensing and hyperspectral imaging.
There are several driving factors that are enabling these non-contact technologies to evolve into practical and cost-effective solutions for the medical industry. At the macro level, the growing adoption of radar and imaging technologies for use in automotive safety and self-driving cars has provided impetus for both driving down the costs and driving up the production volumes. Simultaneously, advances in nano-tech technologies are enabling efficient chip-level integration of advanced sensing and powerful computational functions using proven mainstream semiconductor technologies such as 28nm complementary metal-oxide-semiconductor (CMOS) fabrication nodes, instead of more expensive and difficult to integrate exotic materials such as silicon-germanium or gallium arsenide.
These nano-tech advances are making it possible for highly intelligent medical sensing devices that can both collect non-contact information and provide first-level analysis to confirm and prepare the data. For example, non-contact radar can be used to monitor both heartbeat and respiration in a patient, by measuring the minute movements of the chest. As part of the process, nano-tech devices can also identify and compensate for “noise” such as ambient movements by the patient, thereby providing a conditioned signal of only the desired data.
Similarly, hyperspectral imaging functionality can be integrated at the chip-level to provide highly detailed image data for applications such as retinal scans, wound healing monitoring, dermatology monitoring and surgical assistance. There is a huge range of applications for hyperspectral imaging in the medical arena, with the initial applications likely coming in areas where enhanced information can make a big difference. Hyperspectral imaging offers the advantage of being able to integrate a variety of imagery streams, such as 2D shape and dimension data along with additional data streams, such as infra-red, temperature and CT scans.
Expanding Beyond Wearables
The deployment scenarios for these new non-contact nano-tech solutions will also cover a wide range of possibilities, from clinical settings to home or office-based environments. Sensors could even be embedded in laptops, smartphones or the driver seats of vehicles to continuously and transparently collect vital health information across various user situations. This bold future offers vast market opportunities, too. The increasing prevalence of digital natives are seen as a portion of the population which would welcome and further support these concepts of advanced tech in the healthcare sphere. And reports indicate that the global medtech market could reach $477.5 billion by 2020 alone.
Research has shown that 80 percent or more of chronic health problems can be mitigated or avoided altogether by living a healthier lifestyle and we are now on the brink of new nano-tech solutions that will fundamentally change the health monitoring landscape. The medical industry is about to undergo another major step forward in health monitoring thanks to ongoing advances in nano-tech research, collaboration and the development of new IP blocks to support a chip-level revolution in non-contact sensing and imagery analysis.
Whether it is in your doctor’s office, the nearest emergency room or discretely embedded in the dashboard of your car, these technologies are coming soon and will change the way that both individuals and the entire medical ecosystem deal with new diverse streams of health information.