Diagnostic Wearables & the Future of Medical Monitoring
Molex announced the results of a global survey of design engineering stakeholders to identify market drivers impacting the development of Diagnostic Wearables that enable patients, caregivers and consumers to monitor and analyze data regarding health status. Survey respondents cited high expectations for consumer use and innovation in wearables for sport and fitness, wellness and medical-monitoring applications. Also identified were regulatory, technology and adoption barriers that must be cleared to fuel advancements of increasingly connected, smaller and more powerful health, fitness and medical-monitoring wearables.
“There’s an interesting convergence taking place across the diagnostic wearables landscape as medical device companies and tech innovators strive to bring game-changing products to market,” said Tyson Masar, global director, Medical, Molex. “Emerging applications dictate new requirements, which is why design engineers must understand the needs of all stakeholders and how they affect decisions across the entire product lifecycle—from early-stage device design concepts to commercialization at scale, and every step in between.”
Molex and Avnet commissioned Dimensional Research to conduct the Diagnostic Wearables: The Future of Medical Monitoring global survey in August 2022, polling 603 qualified individuals in design engineering roles with responsibility for diagnostic wearables. A variety of questions were asked to understand the pace of adoption and impact of a growing ecosystem of advocates while assessing the challenges and tradeoffs impeding product delivery.
Advocacy and Acceptance on the Rise
A growing roster of advocates are encouraging increased use of diagnostic wearables, led by patients and consumers (61%), doctors and other medical professionals (47%) along with in-home caregivers (44%). Unsurprisingly, insurance providers, some doctors and other medical professionals, as well as medical technicians, remain hesitant or object to increased use.
Within the next five years, however, design engineers report high expectations for direct consumer adoption of devices to support obesity control (61%), posture sensing and correction (59%), breath-based disease detection (51%), reproductive health monitoring (50%) and infectious disease monitoring (49%). Examples of new medical wearables expected to be available within five years include devices for tracking diabetes, sleep monitoring, gait analysis, mobile CT scanning, genetic abnormalities and vision deterioration.
Design Challenges Persist
Despite optimism for the future, nearly all participants identified design challenges, such as consumer expectations for ease of use (42%), the need for simple user interfaces and complete documentation (41%), design difficulties in uncontrolled homecare settings (40%) and complexity of regulatory approval processes (34%). Areas that also impede design processes include cost (38%), durability (37%), power (35%), miniaturization (33%), data capture (30%) and connectivity (30%). In fact, three quarters of those polled report that connectivity constraints impact current abilities to collect relevant data for tracking and analyzing health.
According to those polled, the top five impediments to designing smaller wearables range from miniaturizing the sensing elements (40%) and making hardware (e.g., connectors) smaller (39%) to power management (32%), signal quality (29%) and thermal management (22%). The top three most reported innovations in materials include biocompatibility, published functional and reliability data for emerging materials, as well as real-world “wear test” simulations.
Energy Harvesting Ignites Interest
Overall, respondents were bullish about the potential for harvesting patient energy (e.g., body heat, sweat, heartbeat, movement, etc.) to power wearable functionality. While acknowledging time and innovation are required to propel this area forward, respondents cited movement (49%), body heat (35%) and sweat (13%) as the most viable sources for energy harvesting.
Collaboration Expected to Drive Innovation Worldwide
According to 63% of those surveyed, strong collaboration among industry, government and academic groups is expected to drive the most innovations in diagnostic wearables. While nearly three quarters of respondents from China ranked group collaboration highest in importance, results from participants in the United Kingdom (52%), France (57%) and Germany (59%) were more closely aligned with participants from the U.S. (61%).