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Is wearable tech the future of medical treatment?

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  • Could 2019 be the year that personal wearable tech takes over as the most important medical intervention we make in our everyday lives?

    The past few years have seen some amazing medical technology advancements from startups in Northern Ireland and globally, with promising MedTech startups raising millions in funding every year. Investors are obviously keen to explore the potentially revolutionary medical applications of emerging technologies, such as artificial intelligence and mixed reality visualisation, and a few local companies have really seemed to strike gold with this approach.

    MIT Media Lab professor Pattie Maes thinks this trend is just the beginning, and has penned an interesting piece for Wired UK predicting that wearable medical technology is about to become a huge deal. Practically everyone now walks around with a smartphone in their pocket that can track our activity habits and can support interactive therapeutic applications, for example, but Maes believes that so much more is possible.

    What can wearable tech actually do?

    There are certainly plenty of examples of personal wearable tech that vastly improve the lives of those who suffer from a wide range of medical issues. Maes calls attention to Microsoft's Emma wristband that uses vibration to give parkinsons patients fine motor control, and the AttentivU that detects loss of attention in students with ADD or ADHD and nudges them to restore focus without the need for drugs.

    We have some pretty amazing examples of wearable MedTech here in Northern Ireland too, such as NeuroCONCISE's brain-computer interface that reads brain activity in unresponsive patients using a simple wearable device concealed in any standard headgear. It then uses artificial intelligence to translate that into a computer control signal, allowing locked in patients to communicate with family again.

    What does the future hold for wearables?

    It's hard to predict what medical advances will be made in the coming years, but there's a clear market for wearables that can improve the quality of our lives and the technology is really starting to deliver them. Several companies are exploring nerve stimulation devices for reducing pain, some are using biofeedback techniques to help people manage things such as stress and panic attacks, and some are developing sensors and platforms to track detailed health data in realtime.

    Perhaps the most important factor that will affect wearable technology in the MedTech field is the fact that they're personal devices. While there's no substitute for qualified healthcare professionals in diagnosis and treatment, a doctor's time is at a premium while a wearable device is with you at all times. It's easy to imagine a future in which we wear sensors that collect health data in realtime, that can use artificial intelligence to identify problems, and communicate with your doctor to improve patient outcomes.

    Will 2019 be the year that wearable medtech makes that breakthrough and becomes as ubiquitous a part of our lives as the smartphones in our pockets? Quite possibly.

    About the author

    Brendan is a Sync NI writer with a special interest in the gaming sector, programming, emerging technology, and physics. To connect with Brendan, feel free to send him an email or follow him on Twitter.

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