Alix Paultre, Editorial Director, PSD
The medical industry is a major driver of wearable and implantable technology, and most of the devices and services involved are also part of the rapidly expanding Internet of Things (IoT). Medical technology has always been a major leader in the development in wearable technology, from glasses to glass eyes to bionic optical implants, and from articulated-wood artificial limbs to robotic arms and legs, to name just a few examples.
Medical applications drive development because our needs drive invention, and we all need to live longer, more mobile, and healthier lives. Each generation of development builds upon the last, creating ever-more advanced solutions. Many of them then trickle out into the public and become general health practice. Once upon a time you had to go to a doctor to get your blood pressure, for example, before meter technology became compact and inexpensive enough to put in the medicine chest of anyone that wants one. Soon your watch will tell you your vitals as easily as it tells you the time.
This developing market is already huge, and getting bigger. According to Businessinsider.com, wearables in healthcare applications are expected to reach $162.9M by 2020. This doesn’t even address the implantable market, where according to marketsandmarkets.com, it is expected to reach $17.82 billion by 2017.
We can now develop artificial systems to replace many biological functions; electromechanical systems that work like a person’s missing or inoperative parts. These electronic replacements for our limbs, hearts, lungs, teeth, eyes, ears, and the other vital systems in our bodies will not just be stand-alone systems; they will also use the cloud and IoT to enhance functionality and utility, creating a network of healthcare telemetry that will enhance the lives of many people.
Again, as these technologies become less expensive, less bulky, and easier to operate, they will trickle out into the industry, fomenting even more development that often trickles back into the medical space. For example, mainstream medicine is often influenced by sports medicine, and sports medicine is often driven by the athletes and trainers involved.
The Maker revolution will also add its voice to the chorus of wearable and implantable development. From human RFID implants to advanced mobility exoskeletons, basement and backyard technology developers are also making an impact. This trend will only accelerate as the latest core technologies mature and move into a more affordable realm.
For all of this blurring at the edges of devices and applications, however, it is important to remember that we are dealing with human lives here. We should set up a secure and standardized medical-only interface and telemetry protocol to enable medical devices to communicate with medical record systems, facilities, other devices, and caregivers. This could be supplemented by a sports and healthcare protocol that is compatible yet separate to establish a clean line between the various device types and applications. As your smart phone becomes the heart of your personal health management system, we should ensure that you won’t be misdiagnosed by a malware ad from a company that wants you to buy their drug solution.