Pedometers have been around for years as a fitness tracker for the health conscious but wearables are now fast-becoming the more sophisticated, fashionable, technology. They are digitally enabled, measure any number of biometrics and have the ability to combine and share the data. Fitness bands are already on the market and smartwatches are entering this space.

Early wearables have been focused on fitness but increasingly there is a shift towards wellness and health maintenance. Ultimately, these devices will be used as companion diagnostics and to help monitor health and disease – everything from UV exposure, hydration levels and sleep patterns to blood sugar and blood pressure. They could also be used in clinical trials for remote studies and to collect real-world data, as well as a tool for medication adherence. “There are many contexts in which wearables can be used,” says Amy Puliafito, spokesperson at wearable tech firm Misfit, “but we are still searching for a killer-use for wearables that has the potential to be huge.” This is something Apple, Google and Samsung are counting on – with each investing heavily in this area. 

Wearable tech will lead to patient engagement with health and increased self-management, which will change the relationship between patients and doctors. But, ultimately, wearables are about preventive medicine and avoiding the doctor, says Faisal Ahmed, digital director at ICC Lowe. Through data collection and analysis, wearables could be used to help seek cures and improve outcomes. And merging this data with electronic health records has the potential to change the whole landscape, leading to more personalised healthcare and ultimately reducing costs.   

Should pharma be jumping on board? It’s rumoured that some companies are already in talks with the top tech giants. Ahmed believes this could be a big win for pharma from a patient perspective, and allow companies to provide support and help with medicines adherence. 

The current obstacles are getting public buy-in and maintaining use of the device over a long period of time, says Puliafito. Privacy will also be an issue, particularly as the real benefits will come when the data is integrated and shared. Sceptics might also question whether tech firms are best placed to understand the medical world. 

So what does the future hold? It’s early days, says Ahmed, but he expects awareness to increase as the top tech giants rev up development. Future wearables could include anything from clothes to glasses to headphones, but a bloodless glucose monitor is tipped to be the first area that will have mass appeal and tech firms are already exploring this, such as Google’s smart lens, which aims to measure glucose levels through tears. 

Today’s devices are backward looking and don’t measure a person’s current state of health, provide analysis or predict future health, but the next generation of wearables will focus more on prediction of health, which should aid prevention and cut healthcare costs.

Look out for the September issue of PharmaTimes Magazine, and get the low-down on the 'quantified self' and the 'Internet of Things' - all part of the wearable and connected health revolution. PLUS September's SmartTech section explores next generation gamification. For all the juicy details, subscribe here.