Top 5 Tips for developing medical wearables

March 10, 2015

There has been much discussion around the design of wearable devices and whether they really achieve the benefits that they claim to offer. It’s an important question to raise, as medically-focused wearables could greatly benefit people who need aspects of their health monitored accurately - a Pew Foundation survey stated that 45% of US adults have to manage at least one chronic condition. Here are 5 key development aspects to consider when developing a medical wearable:

Intended use

Even if the technology you wish to incorporate into your wearable is in widespread use in the consumer sector, repurposing it for medical use can be a very complex process. For example, you will need to demonstrate a valid link between the parameter you are measuring and the clinical indication you are targeting. This can often mean costly and expensive clinical trials. In addition, you will need to develop the technology under an ISO 13485-compliant quality system. In many cases, developing the technology for medical use from scratch can work out as being much cheaper!

Usability

Think about how the user interacts with your device- if the wearable is designed to be under clothes, touchscreen displays and/or LEDs are probably not the best user interfaces! Vibrational or audible alerts, combined with large simple buttons, are often much more appropriate. You may also want to consider moving the primary user interface to a smartphone or smartwatch.

Battery performance

Incorporating multiple advanced sensors in a single wearable without the need for a bulky battery or frequent recharging is often key for ensuring the convenience and effectiveness of the monitor. This needs very careful consideration of the trade-offs required. For example, processing more data locally on the wearable and transmitting less data via Bluetooth low energy could result in a much lower power device than if you were to stream all the raw data to a smartphone continuously via wifi of standard Bluetooth.

Medically-focused wearables could greatly benefit people who need aspects of their health monitored accurately

Wireless performance

Humans are approximately 60% water. If you are looking to transmit data from the wearable wirelessly, the range for common wireless protocols (such as Bluetooth Low Energy) can be severely restricted as the water will absorb some of the RF energy. Careful positioning and design of the antenna can mitigate these effects, as can switching to lower frequency wireless protocols.

Robustness

Most wearables need to be recharged. If you use a wired connection like micro-USB, the charging port can become a weak point for the device. Specifically, it can be very difficult to make the device water-proof. This is particularly troublesome if the device needs to be worn 24/7- is it really appropriate to ask the user to refrain from swimming or to remove the device before they get in the shower? This means that you can often get a much more useable and waterproof device by switching to wireless charging or energy scavenging technologies. This will add to the cost considerably but will ensure the device is much more useful for long term use.

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