While bundled up on the East Coast this week, I’ve been poring over news articles and social media posts about the latest technologies on display at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show, in Las Vegas, held from 8 to 12 January.
Televisions, drones, and smart-home applications dominated the coverage, but I was on the search for devices that align with IEEE’s mission: advancing technology for the benefit of humanity. What piqued my interest were several items that address some of today’s most pressing health issues. Here are three wearables that stood out.
MANAGING CHRONIC PAIN
For some patients, opioid-based pain medications can be a slippery slope toward addiction. A report from the U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse found that about 25 percent of patients abuse painkillers. And in 2015, painkiller overdoses claimed the lives of more than 20,000 people in the United States alone, according to the American Society of Addiction Medicine.
Quell, a new wearable from health technology company NeuroMetrix, aims to treat chronic pain without the use of opioids. The soft band is worn around a person’s upper calf. The wearable stimulates sensory nerves, tapping into the body’s pain response system. Sensory nerves carry neural pulses to the brain and trigger a natural response that blocks pain signals—which can lead to widespread pain relief, according to the company’s website.
NeuroMetrix debuted its wearable during a CES panel, “The Vicious Spiral: How Will the Opioid Crisis End?” The panel addressed how technology can help prevent addiction to painkillers as well as to alternative drugs including heroin.
Type 2 diabetes, a chronic condition that affects the way the body processes blood sugar, is on the rise. More than 30 million Americans—approximately 9 percent of the population—have been diagnosed with the condition as of 2015, more than in any other country.
Insurance company UnitedHealthcare and Dexcom, a business that develops glucose monitoring systems, debuted a new wearable that can help people with Type 2 diabetes monitor their blood sugar in real time. The device, Dexcom G5, consists of a sensor mounted on an adhesive strip that sticks to the abdomen, which reads glucose levels in the blood just beneath the skin. A transmitter sends the data to the patient’s smartphone, which processes and displays updated information every five minutes.
The sensor can help patients better understand how the amount of time they exercise and the kinds of foods they eat affect their blood sugar levels throughout the day. Those effects can be difficult to observe with traditional glucose monitoring, which typically involves pricking the skin for a small sample of blood one or more times a day and putting the sample on a test strip to read the glucose level.
UnitedHealthcare plans to offer the wearable to its customers along with the phone number of a diabetes management coach to help them understand and act upon the data gathered by the wearable. The goal is to increase patients’ control over their glucose levels and ultimately reduce their medications.
SKIN PROTECTION SENSOR
It’s no secret that too much exposure to ultraviolet rays can lead to skin cancer. But when you’re out enjoying yourself in the sun, it can be hard to determine when it’s time to reapply sunscreen or seek shade.
Enter UV Sense, a tiny wearable sensor developed by cosmetics giant L'Oréal. The sensor, 2 millimeters thick and 9 mm in diameter, is worn on a thumbnail. The sensor detects sun exposure and transmits data to a smartphone app, which alerts the wearer when it’s time to take cover. Information about the wearer’s UV exposure is stored in the app, so the user can keep track of time spent in the sun. The solar-powered sensor is battery-free and lasts for about two weeks.