man running on a dust track next to a grass field photo

Wearable health technology devices provide data insights into our performance, yet acting on the data remains a key industry challenge — Jenny Hill | Unsplash

The need to act on health insights from medically-accurate wearable health technology devices  

The wearable health technology industry has exploded in popularity in recent years with names including FitBit and Apple Watch becoming mainstream. Wearable health technology includes devices that the user wears, such as smartwatches, that are designed to collect data on the user’s health and track exercise. Indeed, the industry is showing no signs of slowing down in the coming years.

The overall wearable health technology market was valued at $15.74 billion in 2015 and it is expected to reach $51.60bn by 2022. The key factors attributed to this exponential growth are the high consumer preference for sophisticated gadgets, the growth prospects of next-generation displays in wearable health technology devices and the increasing popularity and integration of Internet of Things (IoT) connected devices.

The industry has been steered by the increasing demand among consumers to monitor various aspects of their health. Furthermore, insurers and employers are beginning to see the benefits of supplying employees with wearable health technology.

Wearable health technology devices currently on the market include fitness trackers, smart health watches, electrocardiogram (ECG) monitors and blood pressure monitors, with biosensors — wearable health technology medical devices such as self-adhesive patches — soon arriving on the market.

The industry is not without its challenges, however. User privacy is a key concern, particularly around third-party access to user data — by insurers and employers, for example. Regulation is another area of concern, especially around the handling of data. Finally, the accuracy of health tracking monitors is still a long way from the accuracy seen in medically-approved devices.

HeartIn is an innovative wearable health technology startup with the laudable aim of closing the gap between the accuracy of the monitors currently on the market with that of medical-grade devices. The company is designing its first wearable health technology device: a sports t-shirt that monitors the wearer’s heart rate via a sensor on the inside of the left arm sleeve. HeartIn aims to combat heart disease — the greatest killer — by providing users with medically-accurate heart readings combined with pragmatic steps to improve their health.

This month, MillGens had the pleasure of sitting down with Alex Vinogradov, Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer of HeartIn, to discuss the current challenges the industry is tackling and the innovative solutions that startups like HeartIn are bringing to market.

MillGens: What challenges is the wearable health technology sector currently tackling?

Alex Vinogradov: “25 million people die annually from cardiovascular disease, or 50,000 people globally every day. Concerningly, cardiovascular disease is “hidden” in that there are no immediate symptoms meaning people do not take a proactive approach to their heart health.

“At HeartIn, we are moving beyond the — broadly — positive statistics that wearable health technology devices currently provide users to integrate clinically-accurate measurements of the wearer’s health to give deeper health insights.

“The market problem at present is accuracy. Devices currently on the market are ten times below the accuracy threshold required by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for medical approval. However, medically-approved devices are expensive, cumbersome and certainly impractical (think wires fastened to your chest hooked up to a bulky pager-like device worn on your waist).

“Many startups have attempted to address monitor accuracy. Previous models struggled because users found it difficult to clip the ECG monitor to their chest. The next step was bracelets, however they lacked clinical-grade measurements unless the user held their finger on the device at all times making them impractical.

“Several well-known companies are attempting to solve this challenge at present, including Apple Watch and FitBit. At HeartIn, we are taking a different approach and involving healthcare professionals from the outset. We are currently at the production stage and we plan to sell millions of units worldwide thanks to our strategic partnerships with healthcare companies and hospitals.

“Overcoming the challenge of medical-accuracy balanced with wearable convenience is key to the wearable health technology industry. At HeartIn, we are solving the problem thanks to a medical-grade monitor built into a wearable sports t-shirt.

“So far, progress has been slow but this is characteristic of the healthcare industry, and especially for wearable health technology devices. This is due to our extensive research and development as well as clinical trials and regulation since we are aiming to work closely with the healthcare industry.”

man wearing a black sports t-shirt with an ECG monitor on the left sleeve photo

HeartIn has designed a washable garment with built-in electrodes combined with an ECG device with a smartphone app to monitor heart rate, fatigue and cardiovascular activity — HeartIn

MG: What opportunities are there to combine health tracking data with healthy practices for better overall health?

AV: “People like to hear good news about their health. Unfortunately, our health goals are often convenient ones that we set ourselves and we use data from our health-tracking devices to support and justify our beliefs that we are in “good” overall health. Looking ahead, if a user wears a medically-approved heart rate monitor and learns from the collected data that their heart health is not as good as they previously thought, this news will most likely be alarming and the user may not know how to take active steps to improve their wellbeing.

“This is where we plan to better integrate consumer health tech with the medical profession to improve the health of the user. Medical devices provide a wealth of data for doctors, cardiologists and personal trainers to learn about a patient’s overall health. Furthermore, wearing monitoring devices while going about daily activities provides an excellent chance for secondary detection of underlying health conditions.

“When our health is measured by medical professionals in a clinic or hospital, it is merely a snapshot of our daily lives under unusual circumstances. If, say, you are wearing a medical-grade heart rate monitor in your clothing while running, stretching, or meditating you will be acquiring a more realistic and accurate measure of your health while you go about your daily activities.

“We believe this a great step to better know yourself and take proactive preventative action. Surprisingly, people pay hundreds of dollars an hour for personal trainers and personalised fitness regimes. If these personalised programmes are combined with accurate data from health tech devices, this will provide health professionals with deeper insights into your health, progress and performance. Ultimately, this can lead to optimisations in health, performance, and even diet.

“This is the value proposition for the customer: the medically-accurate detection of your health. Finally, detecting underlying health conditions will offer actionable insights to improve your overall health and performance. For example, arrhythmia can be detected, the risk reduced and even made preventable by modifying your lifestyle. Accuracy is critical for this step to be effective and without it, it cannot work.”