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Wearable Tech: The future of health?  

‘Morale is the burning, unignorable safety issue in the NHS and yet its governing powers seem unable to admit their responsibility for its decline…. It is a systematic problem, with chronic understaffing, frequent rota gaps, fatigue and stress and unavoidable mistakes in a toxic mix. No wonder there was such anger when Jeremy Hunt told parliament he would arrange a review into why junior doctor morale was so low – ironically on the same day the imposition of the new contract was announced.’


Tens of thousands of NHS staff took to London’s streets this weekend, in the latest reminder that UK hospitals and staff are at breaking point, as The New Statesman reports. Faced with the grim reality of a collapsing NHS, there is more urgency than ever before to harness the power of technology to improve efficiency and relieve the burden of care. The potential is vast, and increasingly recognised: as JWT Intelligence reports, by next year alone, it’s thought that ‘70% of healthcare organisations globally will invest in consumer-facing technology, including apps, wearables, remote monitoring and virtual care’; crucially, ‘wearable tech could reduce hospital costs by as much as 16% over the course of 5 years’.


But first generation consumer products have consistently failed to live up to the hype, and as the FT reported earlier this year, ‘analysts are slashing their forecasts for wearables, as some manufacturers bow out of the market altogether’. Mindfulness apps and fitness trackers have so far dominated the stage – to little widespread relief to the public healthcare system that needs it most.


All this is set to change next month, however, when a collaboration between health tech startup snap40 and the NHS will see next-generation wearable tech trialled in two Edinburgh hospitals. JWT Intelligence reports that ‘patients will be fitted with upper-arm monitors that use multiple sensors to measure respiratory rate, heart rate, blood pressure, oxygen saturation, skin temperature and movement. Software then uses algorithms to convert data into useful information for medical staff, who are automatically alerted of any dangerous changes in vital signs.’ The difference, according to snap40 founder and CEO Christopher McCann, is the sophisticated meta-analysis which allows healthcare staff to prioritise care rather than drowning in data.


For NHS staff – 37% of whom report stress-related illness, with the highest GP stress levels in the world  – the impact of technology, both directly and indirectly, could be enormous. As we wake up to the cost of mental ill health – around 4.5 per cent of UK GDP in lost working days, reduced productivity and higher benefits, according to The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development – private sector employers are increasingly turning to technology-based solutions that may also prove valuable for highly stressed NHS workers. As the FT reports  ‘Citi recently launched a free service called Babylon for all of its UK employees, which allows day and night access to a GP… BNP Paribas recently launched a trial with Biobeats, a digital health business, and insurers Axa, that uses wearable technology to study stress’.