Medically Approved

How wearable technology is changing health care

Person looking at their Fitbit

Optum Perks Author

By Optum Perks Author

The wearable technology industry is growing rapidly, with the number of devices shipped estimated to reach 130 million by 2018. In fact, many of these wearables are now going through design refreshes to enhance patient experiences, playing a more prominent role in today’s healthcare.

It’s becoming more common for practitioners to gather health data from other sources. More specifically, patients who arrive at the emergency room with health trackers have provided doctors with clues to their physical condition.

How does this new element of treatment shape our current healthcare models, and what do these devices actually do that is so helpful for patients and doctors alike?

More Than Counting Steps

Health trackers emerged onto the tech market as an easy way for people to be more athletic. They appeal to those who probably don’t have the inner calling to visit the gym regularly, and instead want to feel fit and accomplished by reaching a certain number of steps every day or learning how to get a better night’s sleep.


A nationwide survey revealed that as many as 69% of Americans monitor at least one health indicator such as body weight or exercise, and over 21% of the respondents said they used some type of technology to keep track. 46% of respondents said that their overall approach to maintain health had changed after keeping track.

This element of motivation is what typically gets people to purchase these trackers, yet these tools also provide benefits that many don’t realize. One popular product, the FitBit, offers an integrated heart rate tracker that monitors your activity level and even produces statistics while you sleep. Up to 40% of respondents from the survey said that tracking data encouraged them to ask more questions about their health.

It’s this functionality that has helped to literally save people’s lives, like one New Jersey man who was experiencing atrial fibrillation without many symptoms. Doctors were able to look at his heart rate history, with his permission, and discover when his irregular heartbeat began. By having this information, it changed their course of treatment dramatically.

Going Beyond The Heart

It’s fairly common knowledge that monitoring your heart rate is a perk of wearing health trackers, yet more and more companies are coming into the scene with devices that offer other options. Still very much in the works, Apple has announced that their Watch could potentially take blood sugar readings without even piercing the skin. For individuals who have to deal with daily glucose testing, this could completely change their lives.


In fact, Soreon Research identified the biggest growth segments for wearables to be diabetes, sleep disorders, obesity, and cardiovascular diseases.

In addition to conditions that pose complicated health risks, high-tech devices are also leaning toward utilizing medical data to assess other types of concerns. One device marketed toward women, the Bellabeat, not only integrates a step tracker into its fashionable design but focuses on the wearer’s stress levels. It learns your daily habits and by syncing with an app, can actually predict when you might encounter stress in your day to day life.

Leaving fitness goals aside for a moment, some products are finding their place in a very niche health market. Healthcare professionals can work with women who are trying to conceive by utilizing fertility trackers like Ava. While it looks like a watch, the Ava works to detect a woman’s cycle and indicate more fertile times of the month.

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How Might Healthcare Change?

Since the inception of the Internet it’s been feared that patients will try to educate and treat themselves, and thus use technology to replace seeing their doctor. The same thing might be said regarding health trackers, justifying that a certain number of steps per day constitutes a healthy lifestyle and therefore no reason for regular checkups.


However, the data gathered from wearable trackers can actually complement one’s health care plan, as this information can be instrumental for your physician. Rather than waiting for blood test results to come in, doctors can rely on your tracker to help develop treatment plans.

Ultimately this shift in using gadgets to enhance your healthcare can influence perceptions toward prevention, rather than focusing only on treatment. There will also be a greater personalization of medical care vs. a one-size-fits-all approach as the intelligent data will be able to provide your doctor with more information.

From smart bras that detect heart disease to more experimental devices that pick up on brain signals, the trend toward high-tech tools is proving that we can be more in touch with what’s going on in our bodies. According to experts, wearable and embedded devices will be ubiquitous by 2025.