by Mehran Mehregany, Ph.D.
Professor, Case Western Reserve University
According to a recent study by IDTechEx, there will be three billion wearable sensors by 2025, with about one third of these being new sensor types. It appears now that healthcare delivery could be the "killer application" for wearables. Along the same time, wearables systems and devices are well positioned to be the key enabling technology for wireless health. In turn, sensors enable wearables to gather data from the wearer and their environment. Given their significant potential benefits to healthcare delivery and increasing patient demand for mobility, continued emergence of wireless health and wearables is a certainty. Consequently, MEMS based sensors are well positioned better for future growth.
Healthcare is a universal need -- better care delivery, increased population coverage, and lower cost are pressing societal expectations. Technology is an indispensable component of solutions responsive to these expectations. One such promising technology solution is wireless health, which enables diagnosis, therapy, and monitoring of health-related conditions by tracking biometric readings, relevant biomarkers, managing treatment regimen, and monitoring progress -- while the patient remains "untethered" and can even go about their daily life. This approach to health care is also called mobile health (mHealth), digital health, and connected health, among others.
Table 1. Prospects for wireless health impact.
Ubiquitous connectivity and computing are bringing about unprecedented mobility by facilitating working, entertainment, shopping, socializing, gaming, and more, anytime, anywhere. Today's healthcare delivery, however, "tethers" the patient and the provider together episodically (i.e., requiring them to meet at a designated time and place). It is only natural that the same enabling technologies and the associated mobility enablement are now infiltrating health care. In fact, telehealth, which leverages video conferencing, is already being used to offer "care at a distance" which connects remote providers and patients face-to-face.
Advances in MEMS enable nonintrusive measurement of health and disease conditions, as well as delivery of therapy on demand (see table below). Connectivity and computing are ubiquitously available at low cost and with high performance; they will continue to get better with time. Social networks are a powerful tool for promoting peer comparisons and competitions in health and wellness, motivating behavioral change and providing a community of support. Meanwhile, advances in genomics are ushering a new era of personalized medicine.
Table 2. Example devices with MEMS sensor opportunities.
The convergence of these trends will result in individualized, preventative medicine that is time and place independent. The figure below captures the key benefits of this convergence, recognizing the central role of "wireless" enablement; without "wireless", the extent of each of the benefits is limited.
Figure 3. The coming transformation of health care, catalyzed in part by wireless health.
Hence, emphasis should be placed on "wireless health", rather than "mHealth" or "digital health". Nevertheless, these terms are often used interchangeably, even though they have been coined from different topical perspectives.
Dr. Mehran Mehregany is Goodrich Professor of Engineering Innovation at and directs the Case School of Engineering San Diego programs. Dr. Mehregany is the author of a recent textbook "Wireless Health: Remaking of Medicine by Pervasive Technologies".
This article is a part of MEMS Journal's ongoing market research project in the area of MEMS and non-MEMS sensors for medical wearables. If you would like to receive our comprehensive market research report on this topic, please contact Dr. Mike Pinelis at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information about rates and report contents.
Copyright 2015 MEMS Journal, Inc.