Consumer demand for personalization and ease of use, combined with the economic pressures affecting healthcare delivery, is driving an increase in wearable medical electronics—both for health-related monitoring and consumer fitness tracking. This trend is apparent in the number of healthcare providers demonstrating wearable medical electronics products and in chip manufacturers' dedicated interest in components designed to meet medical electronics requirements.
Not necessarily a new market sector, wearable medical electronics for health and fitness have gained prominence this year at both the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas and, more recently, at Mobile World Congress (MWC) in Barcelona, Spain.
Why the sudden interest in wearables? Much of it has to do with timing and market opportunities.
Two keynote speakers at MWC— Nancy Brown, CEO of the American Heart Association, and Dr. Paul Jacobs, CEO of Qualcomm—underscored that demand and industry opportunities for mobile medical electronics are expanding, particularly for personalized products. Three groups are driving demand for wearable medical electronics:
With the increased commoditization of mobile devices, opportunities are increasing for the industry to provide products that are accessible and useful to patients, interactive and sophisticated enough to meet health professionals' data requirements, and which significantly cut healthcare costs by reducing office visits through remote monitoring and improving long-term, postcare health in patients.
Wearable devices are, obviously, the main entry point for medical electronics growth because of the opportunity for increased volume with a moderate mix of technology, thereby enhancing the return on investment opportunities. While purely a business economics evaluation, the reality is that this will be the force that opens competition within medical electronic devices, a necessary next stage.
As competition increases, design engineers will improve the availability of dongle devices or software applications to turn users' existing smart wireless devices (e.g., tablets and smartphones with on-board, feature-rich components that can be leveraged) into a commodity version of a medical electronic, savvy enough to record necessary metrics and secure and reliable enough to provide healthcare professionals with remote updates on patients' status and recommend when office visits or in-person monitoring or care is warranted.
Both CES and MWC revealed that competition is mounting, although mostly in the realm of health and fitness, and that these devices should be understood as highly commoditized precursors for the medical arena. With design and OEM competition underway, reduced costs for the component sophistication necessary for medical electronics devices is further driving the evolution of this booming market.
Todd Traylor is vice president of global trading at Smith & Associates, where he is responsible for helping to manage all aspects of Smith’s global trading programs and initiatives. Traylor holds a bachelor's degree in business management (business analysis and entrepreneurship) from Texas A&M University. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.