Medical-grade devices vs. consumer wearables

2nd July 2019
Posted By : Lanna Cooper
Medical-grade devices vs. consumer wearables


Smartphone ubiquity, sensor miniaturisation, and ease of integration have increased the number of wearable products on the market, to the point where such products are now achieving performance levels suitable for medical use-cases. But how will medical wearables make patients healthier - and why now?

"In today’s wearable technology market, the vast majority of growth has been in consumer sports, fitness, and wellness,” announced Jérôme Mouly, Senior Technology and Market Analyst at Yole Développement.

“However, wearable devices are rapidly expanding for health and medical uses. At Yole, we think, this market should reach $32bn by 2024 with a year-to-year 31% growth between 2018 and 2024. In the meantime, the global sensor market for medical wearables, including CGM, is expected to reach $2.8bn in 2024, with a 21.6% CAGR during the same period.”

Yole Group of Companies including Yole Développement and System Plus Consulting investigate the world of medical wearables, existing and emerging technologies to propose today two dedicated analyses, Apple Watch 4’s PPG and ECG Health Sensors report and Medical Wearables: Market and Technology Trends.

Yole’s analysts explore the medical wearable technologies used across different market segments and point out the technical choices made by the companies and possible evolutions.

From its side, System Plus Consulting, goes deeply inside the technology with the reverse engineering & costing of the two main health sensors embedded in the Apple Watch series 4: an enhanced PPG and ECG, a medical sensor approved by FDA for the first time in an Apple Watch.. 

“The PPG is the core of the continuous heart beat sensor,” explained Sylvain Hallereau, Project Manager at System Plus Consulting. “A new, and more compact design reduces the surface area by 30%, while the number of components increases from six to 14. This enhances heartbeat measures. In parallel, the ECG electrically measures very small currents using three electrodes. Two wrist electrodes are integrated on the back side of the Apple’s watch. The third electrode is in the digital crown. The signals are captured and amplified by Analog Devices circuits…”

A myriad of advanced technologies are under development to solve the current issues. But what is exactly the status of this medical wearable industry? Does it offer lot of business opportunities? What could be the key enabling technologies? Yole Group of companies presents you the status of medical wearables with a special case study, a deep analysis of the technologies selected by Apple for its Apple Watch 4.

Medical wearables are the convergence of two worlds: the world of medical-grade devices and the world of consumer wearables. Medical wearables also feature two major player types: medical device manufacturers willing to reach consumer healthcare with the promise of higher volumes, and consumer device companies willing to reach the high-value healthcare market. Medical wearables development is quickening and competition is intensifying, prompting players to ensure a high level of quality as well as medical-grade accuracy for the generated data.

Apple made the choice to dramatically increase the number of LED and photodiodes to reach higher heart rate measurement accuracy with higher sensitivity. The LEDs emit light through the skin to the blood vessels, and the photodiode receives the unabsorbed portion of light. On the other hand, sensor designers are developing sensor modules that integrate LEDs and photodiode with the right packaging and electronic architecture, ensuring accuracy of measurement with miniaturized, low-power devices. These turnkey solutions contribute to a faster time-to-market for medical wearable makers and help sensor makers move up the value chain with high value solutions.

Led by the Apple Watch Series 4, there is increasingly strong interest to add ECG capability in a smartwatch so that doctors and hospitals can get accurate information on a patient’s cardiac status. At sensor level, increasing complexity of medical wearables turns electronic companies to medical grade sensor experts, like AMS, Maxim Integrated or Valencell developing dedicated platforms. It enables an optimised integration (in terms of footprint and power consumption) while reducing development time with the guarantee of measurement accuracy.

To better understand the challenges linked to non-invasive sensors in the medical sector, Yole had the opportunity to debate with Valencell (Valencell’s interview) and Ava (Ava’s interview), both players strongly involved in the development of sensor solutions and medical wearables. 

“I am convinced that medical wearables are more than a hype,” asserted Pascal Koenig, CEO of Ava.“However, having been in this space for more than 15 years I am deeply aware that building successful medical wearables takes time and is complex. Having said this, I am convinced that a number of highly successful companies will emerge in this space over the coming years”

“Wearable device makers are continually adding new capabilities, which mean there is less real estate and power budget to go around for each sensor and or function,” commented Ryan Kraudel, VP Marketing at Valencell. “So, device makers always want the sensors to be smaller, more power efficient, but also more capable. Much of our R&D effort is in meeting those demands and we’ve been able to drastically shrink the size of our sensors while increasing our levels of accuracy and the number of biometric we can measure.”

Since 2014, the market research and strategy consulting company Yole has identified more than $550m raised by medical device and diagnostic companies, and the pace at which new medical wearable products are being commercialised is accelerating.

Moreover, at the beginning of the year Apple has announced a collaboration with Janssen Pharmaceutical, a Jonhson & Johnson company to perform a research study to help Atrial Fibrilation otucomes, including stroke prevention. It shows one of the first medical application of the Apple Watch series 4 in a dedicated use case.

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