In-ear wearable devices for health data collection

Collecting health data through wearable devices can be fraught with difficulty when it comes to accuracy and reliability. Many popular wristwatch monitors have struggled to cut the mustard, but now mobile health firm Cosinuss may have a solution.

The company has developed a wearable device which is placed in the ear like a hearing aid, which it claims can track heart rate, heart rate variability, body core temperature, blood oxygen level, breathing rate and blood pressure. According to Cosinuss CEO Johannes Kreuzer, these readings are more dependable than readings from other kinds of wearable device.

“Lots of wearables miss the gold standard for measuring vital signs,” Kreuzer says. “The optimal place for medical sensors is inside the ear canal.”

There are no muscles and less movement in the ear canal, making data like heart rate and temperature easier to monitor than on the wrist, and more convenient than an electrocardiogram or thermometer. Cosinuss’s device uses small, miniaturised optical sensors to take readings, which are processed through its patented earconnect artificial intelligence (AI) algorithm. The information is then processed into the Cosinuss One App, which informs the user about how to optimise their fitness levels and warns them about potential health issues.

Moving forward, Cosinuss hopes to combine its device with hearing aids, use it as part of temperature and blood pressure monitoring technology and even work to predict and monitor epileptic seizures.

Sensing health, from big data to the cloud

Sensing Tex has developed a mat that tracks biosignals, posture and movement, and can be used as bedding, seating and flooring. The technology is now improving the quality of life of bedridden and low-mobility patients.

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The stretchable, foldable pressure sensors process raw data about a patient’s positioning through an AI, to alert clinicians about how they are lying and whether they need to be turned over in bed.

Pressure injuries cost the US healthcare system an estimated $9.1bn-$11.6bn annually, yet they are considered a “never event” – an unacceptable, preventable occurrence for which healthcare providers are accountable.

Sensing Tex’s bed monitor can also use the biosignal data it collects for fall and wander prevention, as well as sleep reports and epileptic fit detection. The technology has also been used in fitness mats and chairs.

Controlling asthma with wearables

Asthma is a common chronic disease among children, with around one in ten affected by the condition, around 38% of whom struggle to manage their symptoms. This can lead to repeat asthma attacks and multiple hospital stays, which are welcomed by neither children nor their families.

ItoM Medical CEO Jurryt Vellinga says: “It’s really disruptive, it’s a loss of life, it’s a worldwide problem and it’s really very expensive.”

ItoM Medical is now working on the development of a smart vest for asthma treatment in children, which can detect early warning signs to prevent attacks. Designed to be worn comfortably overnight, the vest measures a child’s breathing then objectifies the data for parents in its companion app.

The company is currently undergoing its first big financial round to bring the product to market.

“We are on our way to becoming the gold standard of asthma care,” says Vellinga.

Data is king, but dangers persist

The amount of medical data produced doubles every two months, and access to this data has enabled clinicians and researchers to do amazing things. We now live in a world where diabetic retinopathy can be detected automatically, breast cancer can be predicted through deep learning and Twitter can predict when individuals will get sick.

Smith & Nephew engineering and programme manager Allan Hunt says: “The amount of data that is being generated is absolutely spectacular and mining it allows us to do brilliant things.”

However, Hunt explains, this comes with two key risks – data loss, and incorrect treatment of information. Information can be lost through malicious phishing attacks, accidentally or even intentionally, or misinterpreted with potentially devastating effects.

Having now acquired pressure injury prevention organisation Leaf Healthcare, image-guided surgery company Brainlab and optical tracking firm Atracsys, all of which process vast amounts of medical data to develop their technologies, Smith & Nephew certainly has some skin in the big data game.

Hunt says: “Data is an incredibly powerful piece, and it is noticeable that a huge number of people who deal with it don’t look through the repercussions thereof, particularly when it comes to misdiagnosis and how could get out into the world.”

Stress monitoring

Stress has a significant impact on 21st century life, costing the US more than $300bn annually in lost productivity and healthcare costs. By combining heart rate variability (HRV) monitoring with galvanic skin response (GSR) measurement, Maxim Integrated believes it can contribute to reducing the invisible societal costs that stress creates.

Most wrist-worn healthcare wearables on the consumer market measure HRV, the timing between two heartbeats, and can link up how much variation occurs between peaks to stress levels. But few combine this measurement with GSR, emotionally-linked changes in sweat gland activity tracked through bioimpedance sensors on the skin. Measuring both variables drastically improves the accuracy of stress monitoring. In terms of logistic regression, HRV and GSR alone can provide an 86% and 78% accuracy respectively, which jumps to 90% combined. When it comes to multilayer perception, HRV and GSR can each deliver 90% and 82%, but together this jumps up to 92%.

Maxim Integrated software development manager Alisher Kholmatov says: “If we measure stress continuously and provide actionable insights to a user, technology can help people cope with stress.”

The company is now working on the development of a wearable to do just that.

Maxim Integrated director of industrial & healthcare business management Sudhir Mulpuru says: “It starts with sensors, that’s where we come in. A year from now we will have a product that will not only monitor but help you manage stress.”