Wearables appear to be the next big thing in the consumer healthcare segment. We have already seen Apple adding EKG and atrial fibrillation features to the Apple Watch Series 4, and Omron has come up with the world’s first blood pressure smartwatch. Now students at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Penn. have developed a wearable to check for opioid overdose.
HopeBand checks for opioid overdose
This wearable device has the potential to save lives. The HopeBand monitors several health indicators to check for opioid overdose. If it detects an overdose when blood oxygen levels drop, it flashes, emits an alarm and sends an alert to local emergency services.
The HopeBand aims to minimize the amount of time taken to treat a patient suffering from opioid overdose. The HopeBand relies on oxygen levels as the “most reliable indicator of an overdose,” software engineering student Soham Donwalkar explained, according to the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE).
It detects low blood oxygen levels using pulse oximetry sensors. These sensors pass an LED through the skin and then identify light absorption. The device then monitors the wearer’s low oxygen level for 10 seconds before sending an alert.
“Imagine having a friend who is always watching for signs of overdose; someone who understands your usage pattern and knows when to contact [someone] for help and make sure you get help,” Donwalkar said. “That’s what the HopeBand is designed to do.”
If the HopeBand clears all the required tests, it could be made available on the market for just $18. The team hasn’t yet used the wearable in real-world situations but claims the results of the lab-based trials have been encouraging. Initially, the wearable designed to check for opioid overdose will be given for free to opioid users through needle exchange programs.
Opioid addiction is a big problem in the U.S. In 2018, it was responsible for about 115 deaths each day. The number of deaths from drug overdose in the U.S. has more than tripled between 1999 and 2016, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services claims about 11.4 million people misused prescription opioids in 2016-17 and about 42,249 lost their lives due to an opioid overdose during the same period.
What else to expect from the wearable market
The wearable technology industry hasn’t been a runaway success so far, but in the future, analysts expect a boom in the wearable market. The growth is primarily expected in high-tech consumer medical products, and future wearable tech will result in big companies coming together to offer stylish wearables that could help save lives.
Over the past few years, wearable technology has been limited to activity-tracking devices, pacemakers and hearing aids. Now wearable companies are developing viable solutions to track heart rate, calories burned, blood pressure and sugar content.
Consumers are also increasingly adopting wearable technology. It is estimated that U.S. adults used about 77 million wearable devices last year. According to market research and business intelligence firm IDTechEX, the market will hit $150 billion by 2027. The growing use of wearables in the healthcare field and the need for more data on patients are the key factors pushing the wearable technology industry.
Current wearables are mostly in the form of wristbands, but in the future, the focus will be on embedding wearables in clothing, skin patches and electronic skin. For now, most consumer health and fitness devices currently focus on heart rate trackers or other fitness parameters. In the future, we will likely see wearables performing more complex functions. For example, the next-gen Apple Watch is expected to come with a glucose monitoring feature, while MC10 has partnered with L’Oreal to develop a skin sensor to detect UVA and UVB exposure. Additionally, Omron Healthcare is working on the world’s first blood pressure smartwatch.
Wearable healthcare devices offer several advantages to healthcare professionals and patients. The technology could help doctors quickly design a personalized program based on patients’ needs. More importantly, consumer healthcare devices help with early detection of symptoms. Wearable tech also allows healthcare professionals to remotely monitor patients in real time. The devices also help collect more data on a patient, enabling doctors to get a detailed, accurate report on a patient’s medical history.