A Doctor on Your Wrist? The Rise of Wearable Technology in European Healthcare

6 months ago by Emily Gray-Fow

Western medicine has seen huge growth in the use of technology for the treatment of disease and in preventative medicine. Many centres in Europe are leading the way in the use of smartwatches and fitness trackers to treat a number of different conditions, making innovative new leaps in how these body-worn sensors can help keep us fit and well.

At the same time, patients are starting to demand access to these technology-mediated treatments—luckily, they are often scalable and cheap to administer, especially for patients who already own a smart wearable that’s compatible with their treatment regime.

Dissatisfied European Doctors Embrace New Technology

Many European doctors are dissatisfied with their current working conditions, with the quality of care they’re able to provide seriously affected across Europe’s publicly-funded healthcare systems by budget cuts and staff shortages. Many of them feel that technology gives them the best opportunity to help patients in the current economic climate, and many of the digital projects include wearables.

Technology isn’t just a way to improve patient outcomes, it’s one of the few areas where European healthcare organisations are able to maintain physician satisfaction and drives engagement in what is shown to be a dire landscape of dissatisfaction and concern for the future in a recent survey.

In the UK, there is an initiative for trusts to become “Global Digital Exemplars”, and this is making great strides in developing ways for technology and healthcare to work together. Some trusts have as many as 50 cutting-edge technology or healthcare integration projects, including the Salford Royal NHS Foundation Trust. One of their many digital projects involves developing the IT infrastructure needed for patients to send their wearable data directly to their healthcare teams—something essential for the future development of treatments involving wearable devices.

Image courtesy of Bigstock.

Healthcare trusts in other European countries are also making great strides in developing frameworks for monitoring patients with complex conditions via wearables.

Patient Demand for New Technology

As patients become more aware of their health and fitness apps on smartwatches and dedicated fitness trackers become more complex, they are starting to expect doctors to work with this technology to improve their healthcare outcomes.

Even the latest smartphones come with built-in heart rate monitors, and Apple’s latest smartwatch design includes an ECG monitor, so expect other manufacturers to follow suit. Patients expect more from their providers than merely digital appointment systems, and European healthcare providers know this chance to boost patient and doctor satisfaction simultaneously.

Europe-wide Projects and Pitfalls

There are currently Europe-wide collaborations involving global technology manufacturers and a range of European health consortiums contributing to the development of technology to support an ageing population. Though promising, there’s the potential that projects that involve European funding and large British elements may be affected by Brexit.

The new GDPR data protection regulations may also hamstring various developments in healthcare technology by limiting data retrieval and sharing.

Image courtesy of Bigstock.

The impacts of these issues are difficult to measure but are likely to be ongoing and Europe-wide.

What Can Wearables Help Cure?

Going beyond simple applications to help with weight loss or heart rate monitoring, there are many people working on new ways to make use of smartwatches and other wearable technology to treat conditions therapeutically. Regular activity monitoring isn’t just applicable to fitness, it can also let caregivers know if someone with complex medical needs has suddenly stopped moving around.

Activity logs can also be tied in with mental health applications, or remind people to move around post-surgery to prevent blood clots. The ECG abilities of the new Apple smartwatch are about to provide more precise data about patients at risk of heart-related complications at a lower cost than specialist mobile ECG equipment.

Image courtesy of Bigstock.

Multiple methods for combining the data from wearables with other data are making great strides towards creating solutions that improve outcomes for chronic diseases like diabetes.

By monitoring data from smart devices in the community, healthcare providers can spot symptoms early on and prevent diseases from becoming more serious.

Summary

Though it will be some time before it’s commonplace to see healthcare providers issue smart devices to patients, their use is increasing, especially with patients who already have fitness trackers or smart devices.

Doctor and patient satisfaction are low in much of Europe, and technology is one area where patients and doctors alike feel good about the quality of care given and the innovations going on. Those in control of the purse strings should take advantage of the low (and decreasing) overheads that technological innovations offer, letting healthcare’s digital transformation take up some of the slack caused by staffing issues and budget cuts.

As the cost of wearable equipment continues to drop, it will become more available and will continue to increase its role in preventing and treating disease.

Furthermore, as the infrastructure for receiving data from patients’ smart devices improves, technology will become commonplace in the healthcare sector for all patients. Within a matter of years, it will be unusual for us to not be connected in some way with our primary health providers.

Comments