Biometric underwear helps monitor the sick

An example of biometric underwear.

We’ve all heard about patients using various apps and devices to track their health.

Well a hospital in Greece has taken what sometimes is called telemonitoring to a whole new level.

Doctors gave patients with the lung disease COPD biometric underwear to keep tabs on their heart rate, breathing and activity levels.

Biometric underwear goes against the rule of thumb in the world of wearable technology that fashion matters.

Unless, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Steve Downs says you’re sick. 

“In the case of somebody who is discharged from the hospital for COPD they may have a very strong motivation for putting on something that may or may not be comfortable,” he says.

In the case of the biometric underwear whatever discomfort there was, may have been worth it.

Patients left the hospital sooner, were less likely to come back and had fewer follow-ups.

A path to lower costs and improved health.

“The promise of this technology is that it allows you to have the data about effective the treatment is so you can make the kind of adjustments to get the best outcome,” says Downs.

These tantalizing possibilities drive the rush into wearables.

IHS Electronics and Media projects in just three years, it could be a $60 million dollar industry.

But it’s a tricky business says Dr. Jesse Shantz, Chief Medical Officer for Montreal-based startup OMsignal which has just introduced a line of workout shirts to monitor heart and breathing levels.

“To be successful in this, you have to become commercially viable. To be commercially viable you have to pick a narrow consumer segment and give them what they need,” he says.

The difficult question for consumers is what do they need?

“I think there is going to be a lot of chaos and cacophony until they figure this out,” saysDr. Bob Wachter, a health professor at the University of California San Francisco.

“I’m just worried that your mom, who is 80 years old but fine is in Boca. And here you are the daughter who is sitting in Philadelphia and the sensor that she’s wearing in her underpants shows that her heart rate just went up by 10 or 15. What do you do?”

Wachter expects Madison Avenue to convince the worried that collecting real time data helps you and your loved ones.

But right now, it’s the truly sick who may benefit the most from wearables fashion be damned. 

About the author

Dan Gorenstein is the senior reporter for Marketplace’s Health Desk. You can follow him on Twitter @dmgorenstein.

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