Diagnostic wearables: Design challenges and opportunities
From the need to maintain small form factors and keep system power requirements low to concerns over data integrity and cost, the design space for diagnostic wearables is fraught with complexity. Molex partnered with Avnet on a new survey of 600+ engineers to gain insight into how engineers are managing in this emerging space.
The list of new and innovative wearables—from necklaces that measure air pollution to a ring to monitor sleep, heart rate, activity levels and temperature—goes well beyond the mere counting of steps today. And a new generation of diagnostic wearables is on the horizon performing more complex sensing tasks like blood pressure monitoring and cancer detection.
But this new functionality also translates to greater challenges for design engineers. To understand the experience and attitudes of engineering stakeholders responsible for diagnostic wearables, Molex conducted a survey of engineers around the world directly in the design and development of these devices.
For this project, the category of diagnostic wearables is defined as devices used for tracking and monitoring in the areas of sports and fitness, wellness, and medical management.
A complicated ecosystem
The survey shows engineers see a wide range of stakeholders who are advocates for the increased use of wearable diagnostics, ranging from patients and consumers to doctors and other medical professionals and insurance providers.
They also have high expectations when it comes to the availability over the next five years of diagnostic wearables in new application areas, from obesity control to blood-based health monitoring and sample collection.
But despite the optimism and support for expansion, there are headwinds. The engineers surveyed viewed insurance providers (31%) and doctors and other medical professionals (27%) at the top of the list of stakeholders who are creating a drag on the market. The schism comes in part from concern over the use of and reimbursement of medical devices in a non-clinical environment.
Nearly all respondents (98%) reported impediments to achieving a more rapid expansion of wearable diagnostics. The delays associated with the need for regulatory approval for wearables considered to be medical devices topped the list (49%), although this process can be streamlined by partnering with a medical device prototype expert who can help navigate the FDA approval process. Other top obstacles cited were data integrity (46%) and medical organizations themselves (39%).
Engineers also anticipate that overall market forces will give the technology a push forward, with technology innovation topping the list (54%), followed by greater adoption of telehealth and remote patient monitoring (47%), as well as demand from patients, caregivers and consumers (40%)
A challenging design space
As engineers seek to develop new and innovative wearable diagnostics, many are focusing on smaller, more energy-efficient devices. In the process, respondents say they are fighting the kind of typical constraints that factor into many of today’s product development efforts, citing top among them the areas of cost (38%), durability (37%) and power management (35%).
There are other unique challenges in designing diagnostic wearables to be used by a patient, caregiver, or consumer in a non-medical setting. High user expectations around ease of use, the need for intuitive user interfaces and complete documentation, as well as the need to account for the vagaries of uncontrolled home care settings top the list of challenges cited by engineers.
Data collection and connectivity represent another area for concern. Nearly one third (30%) of respondents pointed to connectivity as a challenge. Over two thirds (82%) agree that there isn’t a lot of clarify about how to effectively capture and use the data or doing something medically effective with it once collected. Nearly all (94%) cited a need to for ownership of data security and privacy.
There is a lot of excitement about diagnostic data, but not a lot of clarity about how to effectively capture and us it.
Monitoring isn't hard, but doing something medically effective with the data is.
Some technical challenges need to be addressed in order to achieve wide-scale commercialization. Research on new devices continues apace and existing wearables like smartwatches are gaining more health monitoring capabilities. And there is optimism over the future of diagnostic wearables.
Possibly Michael Snyder, director of the Stanford Center for Genomics and Personalized Medicine put it best in an article by Stanford Medicine. The first researcher to show how a smartwatch can detect infectious disease (and who wears 8 sensors on his body every day), Snyder said: “You don’t drive a car around without a dashboard. I would argue it’s just as crazy to go around without a health monitor.”
Explore the full survey results “Diagnostic Wearables: The future of Medical Monitoring.”
This content is provided by our content partner Avnet, a global technology solutions provider with end-to-end ecosystem capabilities. Visit them online for more great content like this.