Patients are biggest advocates of medical wearables

  • October 12, 2022
  • Steve Rogerson

Patients and consumers are the biggest advocates of diagnostic wearables while nearly half of doctors and medical professionals are promoting increased use, according to a survey by electronics company Molex.

However, regulatory approval for medical use tops the list of adoption barriers, along with the need for better data from existing fitness and wellness trackers.

The top five design problems are cost, durability, power, miniaturisation and data capture. Energy harvesting is poised to power wearables but will take time and innovation.

The global survey of design engineering stakeholders identified market drivers impacting the development of diagnostic wearables that enable patients, caregivers and consumers to monitor and analyse data regarding health status. Survey respondents cited high expectations for consumer use and innovation in wearables for sport and fitness, wellness and medical-monitoring applications.

Also identified were regulatory, technology and adoption barriers that must be cleared to fuel advancements of increasingly connected, smaller and more powerful health, fitness and medical-monitoring wearables.

“There’s an interesting convergence taking place across the diagnostic wearables landscape as medical device companies and tech innovators strive to bring game-changing products to market,” said Tyson Masar, global director for medical at Illinois-based Molex. “Emerging applications dictate new requirements, which is why design engineers must understand the needs of all stakeholders and how they affect decisions across the entire product lifecycle from early-stage device design concepts to commercialisation at scale, and every step in between.”

Molex and Avnet commissioned Dimensional Research to conduct the survey in August 2022, polling 603 qualified individuals in design engineering roles with responsibility for diagnostic wearables. Various questions were asked to understand the pace of adoption and impact of a growing ecosystem of advocates while assessing the challenges and trade-offs impeding product delivery.

A growing roster of advocates are encouraging increased use of diagnostic wearables, led by patients and consumers (61%), doctors and other medical professionals (47%) and in-home caregivers (44%). Unsurprisingly, insurance providers, some doctors and other medical professionals, as well as medical technicians, remain hesitant or object to increased use.

Within the next five years, however, design engineers report high expectations for direct consumer adoption of devices to support obesity control (61%), posture sensing and correction (59%), breath-based disease detection (51%), reproductive health monitoring (50%), and infectious disease monitoring (49%). Examples of new medical wearables expected to be available within five years include devices for tracking diabetes, sleep monitoring, gait analysis, mobile CT scanning, genetic abnormalities and vision deterioration.

Despite optimism for the future, nearly all participants identified design challenges such as consumer expectations for ease of use (42%), the need for simple user interfaces and complete documentation (41%), design difficulties in uncontrolled homecare settings (40%), and complexity of regulatory approval processes (34%). Areas that also impede design processes include cost (38%), durability (37%), power (35%), miniaturisation (33%), data capture (30%) and connectivity (30%). Three quarters of those polled reported that connectivity constraints impact abilities to collect relevant data for tracking and analysing health.

According to those polled, the top five impediments to designing smaller wearables range from miniaturising the sensing elements (40%) and making hardware such as connectors smaller (39%) to power management (32%), signal quality (29%) and thermal management (22%). The top three most reported innovations in materials include biocompatibility, published functional and reliability data for emerging materials, and real-world wear-test simulations.

Overall, respondents were bullish about the potential for harvesting patient energy such as body heat, sweat, heartbeat and movement to power wearable functionality. While acknowledging time and innovation are required to propel this area forward, respondents cited movement (49%), body heat (35%) and sweat (13%) as the most viable sources for energy harvesting.

According to 63% of those surveyed, strong collaboration among industry, government and academic groups is expected to drive the most innovations in diagnostic wearables. While nearly three quarters of respondents from China ranked group collaboration highest in importance, results from participants in the UK (52%), France (57%) and Germany (59%) were more closely aligned with participants from the USA (61%).