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Simulating a wearable medical device to test a healthcare app

Wearable medical devices are just the start of a revolution in healthcare innovation. As they track symptoms and routines and take measurements, they build a body of data that can tell your healthcare team more about you than ever before.

That is, if you have a healthcare app to collect the data from the device and record it in a way that makes sense. At TXI, we're diving in to help healthcare companies, providers, and patients make the most of their wearable medical devices to help increase patient outcomes.

Developing and testing systems to get wearable device data

Once upon a time, a client came to us with a wearable medical device meant to connect to an application on the user's phone. It communicates with the device over Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) to download usage statistics and give users the option to add details to the data, like the level of pain felt during an activity.

The wearable device already existed — its job was to be as unobtrusive as possible. Our job? To build out the healthcare app, the main way users would experience and interact with the device. This is where the data would be made meaningful.

To find that meaning, however, we needed a way to populate the app with every approximation of how people might use the wearable device. Physically trying out a bunch of different workout regimes was not going to cut it — there are too many combinations, too many variables, and not enough time.

Instead, we had to create a way to simulate different combinations of data the wearable device would theoretically be sending.

By building a simulation on a laptop and connecting the mobile application to that, instead of the wearable medical device, we can fill the app with whatever data we want. This workaround lets us find and test the edge cases, bugs, and other issues that must be resolved before anyone can rely on the application as part of their healthcare plan.

Simulation is crucial to predicting app success because:

It allows developers to test the app's performance under a range of realistic scenarios without the need for physical devices or human subjects.

It enables developers to evaluate the app's ability to collect and process data from the device, detect and handle errors or malfunctions, and respond to changes in the device's status or configuration.

It can help developers identify and address compatibility issues or other technical challenges that could affect the app's performance when used with different types or brands of devices.

It can help ensure the reliability, accuracy, and safety of healthcare apps that rely on real-time data from wearable devices to inform clinical decisions or patient interventions.

It can save time and money by reducing the need for physical device testing, which can be time-consuming and costly.

It can help developers evaluate the app's user interface and user experience design, ensuring it is intuitive and easy for healthcare providers and patients.

It can facilitate iterative development and testing, allowing developers to quickly iterate on design and functionality until they achieve the desired level of performance and usability.

It can help developers comply with regulatory requirements for healthcare apps, such as those set forth by the FDA, by providing a controlled testing environment and ensuring that the app meets regulatory standards before it is released to the market.

Challenging the data possibilities of health wearables

With the simulated device, we can speed up the feedback cycle. Instead of wearing the device and working out for an hour, we can tell the simulation to "pretend" we've been working out for the last hour. That allows us to test all the data possibilities as we can hypothesize:

When the user wears the device all day, what data gets sent?

If they exercise, which data gets sent?

How does the application respond to this data?

How does it get presented to the user and the cloud server?

What data does the device send on first use?

Does the mobile application work correctly when the wearable device only has a few hours of data?

If the device has been used for a long time, will large-size data syncs cause any issues with the mobile application?

The team that built the medical wearable gave us excellent documentation. Alongside spot checks of the actual output, this ensures all simulated data accurately represent real-world data from the wearable device.

Building a better relationship between healthcare apps and wearable devices

Already, we’re testing the healthcare app in situations that wouldn't be possible without the simulated wearable. We need to know how the mobile app will behave with a year of data, and we need to know that now, not a year from now. We need to test all kinds of scenarios where the device loses power. Will the data save? Will it connect the next time properly? Now we can test that directly, without physically manipulating the device each time.

To access the data collected by the wearable, the app has to have a "communication handshake" with the device — essentially a connection — followed by repeated requests for more data. The simulated wearable allows us to quickly see how the mobile app reacts to all kinds of variations of this process. More importantly, it lets us quickly re-test the variation once we believe we have a solution in place. We can simply run the exact same scenario, tweaking until it works. More testing means that when the wearable device does make it to market, more people can rely on it.

As we get closer to a final product, we'll be able to do it confidently, knowing that we've successfully tested and solved as many pitfalls as possible. This will ultimately make user testing easier and the product safer, allowing users to truly rely on the device and its health data.

Looking toward the future

This project showed us that the future of wearable medical devices is bright, very bright, thanks to the latest advancements in simulation technology. This technology can now provide even more accurate predictions of health outcomes, making them indispensable tools for patients and healthcare providers.

Wearable medical devices will be able to provide even more personalized health insights based on individual health data, making it easier for patients to make informed decisions about their health. Plus, they also have the potential to reduce healthcare costs by enabling early detection of health issues and preventing the need for costly treatments down the line. As the world becomes increasingly digital, wearable medical devices will continue to play a vital role in healthcare. At TXI, we're excited to help enable patients to take control of their health and look toward their own futures.

Wearable medical device FAQs

What is a wearable medical device?

A wearable medical device is a technology that the user can wear to monitor or track their health-related data. These devices are designed to be non-invasive and user-friendly, providing people and their clinicians with easy access to real-time data about their health status without doctor visits. Examples of wearable medical devices include fitness trackers, smartwatches, heart rate monitors, blood glucose monitors, and sleep trackers. The data collected by these devices can be used to improve patient outcomes, assist with diagnosing medical conditions, and aid in managing chronic diseases. Wearable medical devices have become increasingly popular in recent years due to technological advances, convenience, and the potential to revolutionize healthcare delivery.

What are some of the most significant benefits of wearable medical devices?

Wearable medical devices offer several significant benefits to patients and healthcare providers. One of the most prominent benefits is that these devices enable continuous patient health status monitoring, providing real-time data that can help detect and prevent health issues. Additionally, wearable medical devices can help patients manage chronic conditions, such as diabetes or hypertension, by tracking vital signs and medication adherence. These devices can also be used to monitor physical activity and sleep patterns, which can help patients make lifestyle changes to improve their overall health. Wearable medical devices can also reduce healthcare costs by enabling remote monitoring and reducing the need for frequent hospital visits. Overall, wearable medical devices have the potential to improve patient outcomes and reduce healthcare costs by providing timely and accurate health data.

What are some of the challenges of wearable medical devices?

While wearable medical devices offer many benefits, some challenges are associated with their use. One of the most significant challenges is ensuring the accuracy and reliability of the data collected by these devices. Slight variations in sensor placement or device calibration can result in inaccurate readings, which can be dangerous for patients who rely on this data to manage their health. Another challenge is ensuring patient privacy and security, as wearable medical devices can collect sensitive health information that needs to be protected from unauthorized access or disclosure. Additionally, the cost of wearable medical devices can be a barrier to their adoption, particularly for patients who do not have insurance coverage or who cannot afford out-of-pocket expenses. Finally, some patients may find wearable medical devices uncomfortable or inconvenient to wear, which can lead to non-compliance or abandonment of the device. While wearable medical devices offer many benefits, addressing these challenges will be critical to ensuring their widespread adoption and effective use in healthcare.

Can a healthcare app be applied to multiple medical devices?

In general, healthcare apps can be designed to work with multiple medical devices, provided that the devices are compatible with the app's technology and protocols. For example, an app that monitors blood glucose levels could be designed to work with various glucose meters from different manufacturers as long as they use a standardized data format that the app can interpret. Similarly, an app that tracks physical activity could be designed to work with a range of wearable fitness trackers or smartwatches as long as they transmit data in a format that the app can process. However, creating an app to work with multiple devices can be challenging, as it requires careful consideration of compatibility issues, user interface design, and data security. Therefore, healthcare app developers must carefully evaluate the capabilities and limitations of different medical devices and design their apps to be flexible and adaptable to other devices and use cases.

Wearable medical devices can send alerts to mobile devices, and many are compatible with both Android and iOS platforms. They can send smartphone notifications through dedicated App Store or Google Play apps. Popular devices such as the Apple Watch can monitor various health parameters, including heart rate and blood oxygen levels, while also providing notifications for incoming calls, messages, and other alerts. The iPhone can also be a hub for some wearable medical devices, allowing seamless integration and data synchronization. With their compatibility and convenience, wearable medical devices are rapidly changing the modern healthcare landscape.

Published by TXI Healthcare , Digital Health at TXI in Digital Health

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