Doctors and Researchers Try to Prove Effectiveness of Wearable ‘Health’

People with sleep problems in Campinas, in São Paulo, saw a new ally arise in recent months: the “wearable” Electronics like smart watches and bracelets. They are being used by researchers at the State University of Campinas (Unicamp) to monitor the night routine of 400 people in the region and to map potential problems, like insomnia, apnea, and sleepwalking. With the use of bracelets, these patients had to sleep in the hospital with electrodes glued to the body to receive the data. This research is an example of how wearable became the bet of the time in the area of health, since they enable doctors make more accurate diagnoses and follow the effectiveness of treatments prescribed.

The smart bracelet or watch from electronicsmatter used by researchers at Unicamp, technically called actígrafo, has motion sensors that detect when a person enters into deep sleep. If your arms and legs begin to move slower, the device feels that the person slept and begins to calculate the total hours at home. This information is stored in a software developed for the unit and are collected by researchers in real time.

“A thorough research on sleep would require the person to sleep in the lab,” explains the researcher of the Department of Neurology at the Faculdade de Ciências Médicas da Unicamp, Tania Marchiori. “The unit complements our study.” The research is already in your second stage, when the researchers select cases of people with irregular sleep to perform further analysis and start treatments. “Everyone approved. People are receptive to practical solutions of treatment “, says the researcher.

This type of study, joining a major market trends of technology to the treatment of disease, is not in practice only in Campinas. Around the world, hospitals, startups and universities begin to develop methods and health treatments with the help of wearable.

On Syrian-Lebanese Hospital, located in the city of São Paulo, an innovation contest, held last year, has resulted in a system that can detect outbreaks of epilepsy with up to 25 minutes of advance. The algorithm should be soon embarked on a wearable. Accessory sensors will monitor data such as heart rate, breathing and neurological activity level of the patient. The prediction of the attacks will be a result of the intersection of the data.

“This device can bring more quality of life for the person with epilepsy. He can take your medicine before the outbreak or stop any activity “, says the researcher of Epistemic startup and one of the responsible for the project, Lynne Gomez. “The use of wearable is not the solution for severe cases, but will be essential for the everyday life of people with chronic diseases. Is the future. ”

Resources. The replacement of invasive tests for a single smart accessory brings many benefits to patients and doctors. To the patient using the device results in fewer visits to the hospital, the doctor it is access to a huge new world of information. “Data that were collected only at specific times may already be monitored 24 hours, with the patient at home,” says the founder of Carenet, a company that develops software for wearable, Immo Paul.

In the United States, there are a number of ongoing experiences in hospitals and clinics that involve the use of wearable. At Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, doctors selected 30 patients in advanced stages of cancer to use smart bracelets. The collected data allow them to assess which patients are able to receive chemotherapy (see box).

Barriers. Although promising, the use of wearable healthcare still has to overcome a series of challenges to become reality. The main of them is the reach of technology, which hit the market at the end of 2012. So far, only in mature markets, such as United States and Europe, users understand what are smart watches and bracelets. “People already know of what use is a wearable in these places,” says Paul.

The market is still small. According to the consulting firm IDC, wearable equipments 80 million were sold in 2015 in the world – a low number compared to the Smartphone market, which reached 1.4 billion units in the same period. “The wearable market is still very new,” said the IDC Brazil consultant, Peter Hagge. “There is a good prospect for the future, but the growth will be at a more modest pace than expected.”

In Brazil, the market is insignificant: only 133,000 units were sold, including bracelets and smart watches, in 2015. “Brazil is irrelevant with respect to the world,” says Hagge. The IDC’s estimate is that the country reaches a wearable 375,000 market until 2020 — just a fraction of the 213,600,000 of smart accessories that must be sold worldwide.

The price of the products is the main reason that slows down the adoption of equipment in Brazil. While in the United States people are a basic bracelet to monitor his sleep by up to $20, the cheapest on sale around here costs 95 R$. In the case of more advanced smart watches, the difference is even starker: the Apple Watch, for example, costs $299 – the same version is sold in Brazil by R$ 4600. One of the reasons is the high tax burden. “Because people would pay money for something that they don’t even know how it works?” asks Paul.

Challenges. Research Director of Gartner, Annette Zimmermann, there are other challenges to be overcome for these devices are adopted on a large scale in medicine. “Infrastructure, regulatory issues, security, data privacy and development of protocols are some of them,” he says.

In Brazil, the situation is more critical: there is a lack of investment in research to show the usefulness of the equipment to the work of health professionals. “Investment in research and components for the products,” says a researcher at the Universidade Estadual Paulista (Unesp), Lucia Nobuyasu. “We always end up behind the other countries.”

In the long run, the picture should improve. “There’s been an enormous transformation that will help all the parties,” said the Director of health and life sciences of manufacturer of Intel processors, Jose Bruzadin. “The medicine will turn.” Who knows, by showing positive results in health, the wearable industry can – finally – take off.


University of Minnesota

Uses intelligent bracelets to monitor how the tobacco addiction affects the lives of young smokers

Lancaster hospital

Uses bracelets to track patients who performed stomach reduction surgery, by means of weight control and physical activity.

University of Wisconsin

Promotes physical activity in breast cancer survivors through bracelets that send alerts and notifications

York Teaching Hospital

A program to increase physical activity before medical interventions as a way of improving surgical results. To it, are used bracelets to monitor the performance of patients in prescribed exercises

University of North Carolina

Do research to combine the use of bracelets with an exercise program for patients who must perform stem cell transplantation

University of California

Use bracelets to facilitate the prevention of diabetes in young people. For this, the doctors control diet and physical activities, through the goals set in conjunction with the patient

Arkansas Children’s Hospital

Researchers use bracelets to track the relationship between quality of sleep, asthma and amount of exercise performed by patients

Butler Hospital

Develops data-based interventions of bracelets for women in cases of alcoholism recovery