The Rise of Wearables in Healthcare: an Opportunity or a Security Threat?

Posted by on Mar 27, 2017 in Digital Health, Wearables | One Comment

The Market Landscape

Before talking about security in healthcare is better to analyze the digital health market. Wearable connected devices are becoming omnipresent, and fitness trackers were extremely popular in the past few years contributing to its major growth.

Research conducted by Parks Associates suggests that more than 78 million wearables were sold worldwide in 2015; by 2019, the fitness tracker market is set to top $5bn.

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Fitbit, Jawbone, Xiaomi, Misfit, Withings and Garmin have all become household names thanks to an ever-increasing thirst for insights about our own physical performance. The range of measurable variables is already phenomenal, from basic metrics like the route and speed of your travel, to heart rate, respiratory rate, skin temperature, ECG (heart activity) and even posture during activities.

And that’s just the start point; many new devices are looking at more detailed information and health data such as pulse and breathing variability, mood and EEG (brain activity) which in turn will support healthcare and help medicals professional with numerous health conditions.

It’s worth observing that these fitness trackers are still consumer orientated products. They may inspire design trends and provide fun ways to follow activity progress, but their rightful place is in the gym or on the field of play, not the GP’s office. However, a new trend is telling us otherwise, the industry has come a long way since Fitbit launched the first fitness band tracker in 2009.

Emerging trends are now more evident such as predictive & preventative wearables and medically capable ones. As example of this you can read more about the future of wearable sensors that can detect heart failures

Major Challenges & Opportunities

A major challenge for wearable tech is battery power. With devices shrinking so drastically, how can they be reliably powered without requiring constant recharging or regular battery replacements? Energy-harvesting technologies take things one step further, bypassing the need for recharging or replacement.

Reliability is also an issue if consumer devices are ever going to cross over into medical applications. In fact, the one clear negative impact wearables may pose for GPs is a misunderstanding by patients regarding the reliability and potential for self-diagnosis with these types of device. This is a delicate issue as data errors can put at risk patients’ lives, we are now talking about medical interventions not merely fitness recreational usage.

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One of the other main challenges is long term engagement, the devices sometimes are adopted as novelty and new exciting proposition, in other words they can be perceived as fashionable to many modern technology lovers, therefore they’ll use them.

However, in the long run they many encounter a lack of enthusiasm further down the line and the sustainable desired engagement is not there anymore.  That leads me to think that the intrinsic motivation wasn’t there or it wasn’t the right one to start with when the user adopted the wearable.

Another challenge that manufacturers are now trying to combat is adapting to human failure, what I mean is that human beings are imperfect creatures, we forget things, break patterns of behaviour, change habits, ditch the right thing for the wrong thing, adding another layer of complexity to the wearables adoption and sustainability.

Therefore, blending wearable technologies into clothing, indispensable day to day gadgets and other existing ones, this is now certainly a new trend to watch for.

Samsung Electronics clearly expressed its intentions to develop ‘wearable healthcare devices’ as its new business item for the future instead of robots that LG Electronics and other rivals are paying attention to. It is said that wearable devices which can utilize the strengths of AI software more effectively are more suited for the future health care market than the hardware roles of robots due to aging society. Read more insights about Samsung plans to focus more on wearable devices for healthcare  

Security Threats

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From data point of view wearables are collecting more and more data with higher accuracy due to their increased computing power, memory and software evolution.

The threats in my view can be of two kinds:

1) attacks to these devices (hacking), which is typical to the IoT world in which devices are connected but have less capability to implement highly efficient protections. The example of IP cameras which have been hacked and which created a DDoS attack in US can be applied to any connected device.

2) the increased data collection and exchange among devices and cloud services, raises concerns about what data can reveal and how it’s used. The location, heart rate, blood oxymeter, even physical activity can reveal the health status of a person. However this data is not threated as sensitive data. Usually producers choose the strategy of hiding in the grey area of wellbeing.

Jovan Stevovic – CEO at Chino.io (a Platform that helps developers to build and deliver globally their digital health apps with security) states “ the EU regulation is quite clear on this – Article 29 Working Party Opinion, an EU body with advisory status, provides a more detailed definition, which defines health data as:

  • Medical data providing information about the physical or mental health status of someone (the data subject), generated in a professional medical context.
  • Raw data collected by apps or devices that can be used to induce, individually or aggregated with others, someone’s health status or health risk.
  • Data that can permit someone to deduce a person’s health status or risk, regardless of the accuracy, legitimacy or adequacy of this deduction”.

Lucas Moody, CISO at Palo Alto Networks, “ says security has to be baked into the Wearables and IoT devices – not be an afterthought”. The bloom of Wearables and IoT devices has security practitioners in the hot seat, with industry analysts suggesting a possible surge up to 50 billion devices by 2020.

In conclusion, I believe that the industry is fast adapting and now we are seeing healthcare and many other industry verticals paying more attention to potential opportunities in using wearables technologies and IoT. However many businesses have not evaluated and considered the full panoramic view, which includes innovation opportunities, business models to be reformed and transformed, taking into consideration potential threats and most importantly bringing the right expertise to accomplish the rational of their businesses or projects at hand.

This article was written by João Bocas – The Wearables Expert and published on February at Digital Health Legal Magazine

For more information about João Bocas – The Wearables Expert check:

www.thewearablesexpert.com

1 Comment

  1. incogus.com
    September 17, 2017

    Initially crude and functional wearable devices are morphing into cool and futuristic fashion accessories that attempt to stand on their own, while simultaneously integrating new technological capabilities.

    Reply

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