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Wearable Technology Can Provide a Window into the Body's Resilience


But a new study finds that wearables, data and analytics require a “fundamental rethinking” of health management.

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Wearable technology and the resultant data require a shift in thinking.

With the advent of wearable technology comes the ability to more accurately evaluate overall health by measuring the body’s resilience, according to a recent study.

Medicine usually aims to fix specific ailments, relying on targeted treatments that may solve a pressing issue while incidentally impacting other subsystems. But this approach overlooks the human body’s interconnectedness, according to a report published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The human body is similar to natural ecosystems found in the wild: If a tipping point is reached in one area, it can set off a rapid decline in overall well-being. Thus, a better way to measure general health is to assess a body’s resilience, or its ability to recover from strain, sickness and injury.

>> LISTEN: Wearables Are Saving Human Lives. Can They Save Hospitals Too?

“Our work shows that healthcare professionals can use monitored dynamics of all kinds of parameters to see the ever-present regime of ‘micro-recoveries’ that reflect resilience,” says Marten Scheffer, Ph.D., lead author from Wageningen University in the Netherlands.

He asserts that these dynamic indicators of resilience (DIORs) can quantify a patient’s overall health and help doctors view the patient as a whole. Scheffer sees it as: “An intuitive approach empowered by big data.”

Among the advantages of monitoring devices, wearable technology and other sensors, is that the data they generate are accessible and easy for both medical professionals and patients to read.

“They are not some kind of black-box approach, as deep-learning approaches or algorithms that are not revealed by commercial companies,” explains Scheffer. “Instead, they are transparent and intuitively straightforward for patients and doctors. Quick micro-recoveries mean good resilience.”

While there are myriad advantages to monitoring devices, there are also inherent drawbacks, such as the worry that patients with access to this technology will feel less of a need to consult human doctors.

“Obviously, you want real doctors to see and communicate with patients,” says Scheffer. “Not only because it feels better for patients, with all the benefits of that, but also because we cannot replace doctors with algorithms.”

Emergency care is an area where monitoring devices are less likely to have a positive impact. Doctors must first establish a baseline of health for each patient before the data generated from wearable technology can be useful, says co-author Marcel G. M. Olde Rikkert, M.D., Ph.D., a professor and geriatrician at Radboud University Medical Center Nijmegen in the Netherlands. This can be difficult when treating a new patient in distress.

“Such baseline time series may become part of a planned intervention preparation,” explains Olde Rikkert. “As a result, in emergency medicine, this still may be difficult from the first moment you see a new patient.”

At this moment, the most common wearables focus on, “mobility and activity sensors, heart rate monitors, emotion sampling,” according to Olde Rikkert. “This probably will be expanded to monitoring attention, cognition and, for example, cerebral perfusion.”

He also believes that, in the future, wearables will become smaller, more user-friendly, and less noticeable. “Currently we still have watches, patches, and smartphones, but we will move towards wearables and sensors in smart clothing and smart housing.”

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