Health Monitoring Technology

Making Medical Care More Human and Less Invasive

Wearables, smartphones, online platforms, and other health technology applications are rapidly changing many aspects of medical care. For instance, standard medical devices are being updated to include digital features that allow them to be used remotely—for example, to measure and evaluate vital information about a patient's immediate health.

Other technologies are making it more efficient for doctors and other health care providers to keep track of and record patient information, freeing up time for more face-to-face interaction. And because data collected from such devices is not necessarily appropriate or applicable to every specific health situation, there has been a push to launch condition-focused devices for patients with specific medical problems and the specialists who treat them.

Advances in Virtual Healthcare

Telemedicine (also called telehealth) brings traditional care into the home, an approach to patient-physician interaction that in the beginning was limited to video chats. Now, thanks to the continued advancement of wearables, virtual doctor visits can be considerably more comprehensive.

For example, with digital devices and home tests such as Tyto and MedWand, doctors can evaluate multiple aspects of a person's health remotely, including:

  • Heart rate
  • Respiration (breathing)
  • Blood pressure
  • Blood glucose
  • Body temperature
  • Oxygen levels

Some devices feature a high-definition camera that can be used to look down the throat and/or into the ear canal. Cameras also can provide high-resolution images of skin, so lesions and other suspicious changes can be examined.

Home urine-testing kits are being developed to check for several health conditions almost instantaneously. The collected data can then be shared in real time or stored for later consultation.

First Aid for Physician Burnout

Health care professionals often are overwhelmed by the increasing demands of the job. Because many wind up spending as much time (or more) at the computer writing notes as they do with their patients, health technology is now being developed to assist them.

This growing and expanding digital health market specializes in actual devices to support health professionals so they can work efficiently. One example is Augmedix—a device a doctor wears on his or her head to help record and recall information about a patient during examinations by using voice and Google Glass. It also retrieves information about a specific patient, including their medication, lab results, and allergies.

Augmedix is compatible with some electronic health record (EHR) systems and purportedly can save a physician up to 15 hours a week of paperwork.

Condition-specific Smart Devices

There has been increased interest in developing technologies that can monitor and/or detect specific health conditions. Scientists and digital technology experts are working on various wearables for specific chronic conditions, among them diabetes, epilepsy, pain management, Parkinson’s disease, cardiovascular disease, sleep disorders, and obesity.

At their core, these devices provide doctors with non-invasive options that can be integrated into patients' day-to-day lives, but they're especially beneficial for patients.

Because digital health is neither invasive (no need for finger sticks to draw blood, for example) nor reliant on pharmaceuticals, digital health-monitoring devices minimize the possibility of side effects.

Health equipment that used to be confined to medical rooms because of cost and/or size can now be packed into a miniature wearable device, making some procedures more convenient and accessible. One example is ZetrOZ, which specializes in acoustic medicine and is producing wearable ultrasound devices that can be used for pain management.

Another condition that has been receiving a lot of attention in health technology circles is diabetes. Big players (Google, Apple, and Samsung), as well as small startups, have been investing in the development of new technologies for managing it.

For instance, there are a number of alternatives to the conventional finger prick for glucose monitoring in the works. Examples include smart contact lenses (that measure glucose levels in tears) and electronic skin patches (which detect glucose in sweat).

Implanted technology might become another option. For example, skin implants that automate drug delivery and bio-artificial pancreas for those with type 1 diabetes are already in development.

Finally, numerous health applications are being developed that can assist with education and adherence to medication and lifestyle changes.

Quality and Safety Concerns

The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates all technologies, devices, and applications that are considered medical devices. The Center for Devices and Radiological Health (CDRH) is the branch of the FDA responsible for approving medical devices as well as establishing safety regulations.

Since mobile health technology is a growing field and the industry has often expressed the need for more guidance, the CDRH established the Digital Health Program. The Program's mission is to advance digital health as well as develop policies and regulations around health technology.

Not all technologies used by health professionals have been classified as medical devices. For example, some health-related apps are not considered medical devices (e.g. those used as educational tools, generic aids that are not intended for diagnosis, and those that allow communication between patient and health care providers).

As a general rule, the FDA is most concerned with technologies and mobile medical apps that could pose a risk to general safety if the device were misused or malfunctioned. Information about FDA-approved medical technology is accessible to the public in the form of a database, and the agency offers the option to subscribe to updates about recently approved medical devices.

A Word From Verywell

Although novel devices like Augmendix are inanimate pieces of technology, they're helping to rehumanize the health care experience. They have the potential to increase patient satisfaction as well as health professionals’ focus on seeing patients (rather than paperwork).

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