By Rob Clark, Vice President of Business Development, Epson Europe
Europe is on the cusp of a demographic revolution. In the next few decades a changing demographic profile will pose structural, social and economic challenges as the current population boom continues, increasing the number of people from 501 million to 525 million by 2035.
This growing population is also aging rapidly as life expectancy continues to improve. This has led to an increase in the number of older adults becoming afflicted with at least one chronic disease, many of which are associated with lifestyle and diet choices. Obesity, diabetes and other cardiovascular problems are often the result of inactivity, and we face a growing trend that will critically impact both our healthcare systems and our economy.
Businesses are becoming progressively concerned with the effect that these chronic diseases have on employees in terms of sick days and reduced productivity. Governments and national bodies, meanwhile, are increasingly aware of the cost of longer life spans and the rising pressures being put on national healthcare structures. In the UK, for example, the over 65’s already make up about 16% of the population but consume 30% of its healthcare resources.
The question is who will take care of the older, longer-living population, how will it be done and what will it cost?
Fortunately, according to the European Commission, while chronic lifestyle diseases do rank amongst the most costly health problems, they are also the most curable. Lifestyle diseases can be controlled, treated and prevented by introducing healthy and sustainable lifestyle changes. Patients can, and should, manage their own care, provided they are given the appropriate information, guidance and resources to monitor their health.
Wearable technologies support this by allowing people to track their activity, heart rate, sleep quality, calories burned and even how their state of mind affects their heart rate. This should empower people to improve their lifestyle choices, reducing their vulnerability to lifestyle diseases and taking the pressure off the national healthcare systems.
Trials have shown that wearables could play a big role in the health monitoring of entire workforces too. A recent study gave three hundred IT decision makers in the UK and the US wearables to use for a trial period of one month. The findings revealed an increase of up to 8.5 percent in productivity and a work satisfaction level of up to 3.5 percent higher in employees who used the wearables.
Transparency Market Research, meanwhile, shows that in 2012 the healthcare and medical segment already accounted for about 35% of the overall global wearable technology market, closely followed by the fitness and wellness segment. Key products in these segments include sleep sensors, glucose monitors, electrocardiography (ECG) monitors, blood pressure and fitness monitors.
The future of wearables in the healthcare industry
One of the key advantages of using wearable technologies is the mobility it allows. Hospitals will be able to switch to wearables that monitor all vital parameters, allowing patients to walk around without attachment to a traditional medical monitor. Furthermore, patients could be given wearables to use before, during and after treatment in order to monitor its effects remotely.
Healthcare practitioners could monitor a patient’s health remotely, and over time, by accessing the stored data and “ring the alarm” when vital statistics indicate medical intervention is needed.
Our own recent research indicated that 64 percent of those in the healthcare industry in France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the UK believe that wearable technology will help improve performance and efficiency in their industry.
Wearables are not only part of a distant future; they are being successfully implemented into today’s healthcare industry. Epson’s Moverio platform, for example, is being used in UniversitätsSpital Zürich. In this instance the Moverio is helping improve the accuracy of CT scans used to determine the position and size of tumors. One of the CT scan challenges is the elimination of patient movement caused by breathing. By using the Moverio to display an image of this movement for the patient to see, they are better equipped to control their breath depth and pattern and ultimately the CT image accuracy.
According to Credit Suisse, the overall wearables industry is already worth up to $5 billion; and with nearly 50,000 health apps developed around the world, and more and more work being done to build new applications, wearables are set to become a powerful tool for innovation in healthcare6. ABI Research, a US technology market intelligence company, has also predicted that more than 100 million wearable wireless medical devices will be sold annually by 2016.
The potential for wearable technology to positively disrupt the healthcare and wellness industries is significant. Only time will tell whether we as a nation are able to put them to good use and curb the pressure that global trends are set to place on our society.