Samsung wearables in the U.S. are gaining a biometric function, and the country’s military is testing wearables from Garmin and Oura to predict illnesses, as the market for data-driven health services heats up. Oura rings are also being implemented by a big-league baseball team, and the market for wristbands for patient identification are expected to grow as biometric capabilities are added to them. With large-scale collection of sensitive health data, however, privacy concerns are also emerging.
Samsung has introduced EKC biometrics to the Galaxy Watch 3 and Active 2 in the U.S., The Verge reports, after receiving FDA approval for the technology in August. Blood oxygen monitoring is among the Galaxy Watch 3’s other features.
The feature, previously only available in South Korea, allows users to monitor their heartbeat for irregularities and detecting atrial fibrillation, which can lead to heart attack or stroke. The app does not detect heart attacks themselves, however.
The information is accessed through the ECG Monitor app, or the Health Monitor smartphone app. Samsung says the capability is intended only for those aged 22 years and older.
Readings are taken by the user pressing a button on the watch.
Apple and Fitbit wearables also feature EKG biometrics.
U.S. Military and Seattle Mariners testing health detection
The U.S. military is testing a biometric wearable kit, consisting of a watch and a ring, to detect illnesses up to two days before they cause external symptoms, Defense One writes.
The technology developed by Philips Healthcare and the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) is being tested by 400 troops. The watch is made by Garmin and the ring by Oura. Philips developed a new algorithm based on a huge tranche of health data, which detects a range of illnesses, including COVID-19, though it does not identify the specific illness.
The ‘Rapid Analysis of Threat Exposure’ or RATE system provides a score from 1 to 100 representing the likelihood of the wearer becoming sick. Other than the wearer, health data is accessible only to trained personnel in the event of a sickness being detected, when they can be followed up with through a unique identifier stored with the health data.
The program is now being expanded to 5,000 people across the Navy, Veteran Affairs, West Point and other DoD entities.
The importance of preventing widespread illness transmission within the military was shown in stark relief by the recent disruption of an aircraft carrier’s operation due to a COVID-19 outbreak.
The group which developed the solution is not currently pursuing FDA approval to bring it to the consumer market.
The Seattle Mariners of Major League Baseball have begun monitoring player sleep patterns and health indicators with Oura rings, Ballpark Digest reports.
The rings are being used to measure biometrics such as temperature, heart rate, heart rate variability and respiratory rate to inform adjustments such as to training regimens or diet.
Substantial growth forecast for patient identification wristbands market
The patient identification wristband market is expected to grow at a 7.8 percent CAGR from 2020 to 2030, according to new research from Future Market Insights. The market was worth an estimated $374.7 million in 2019.
The integration of RFID tags into the wristbands for hospital management represents a major market opportunity, according to the report, and with healthcare facilities implementing automated identification technologies, they could save time and cost with real-time identification, traceability, temperature, communication, and location data.
The patient ID wearables can help ensure accuracy in patient identification, and therefore appropriate treatment.
Privacy concerns growing
An Engadget article examines some of the privacy concerns that go along with the data-collecting capabilities of such wearables, beginning with Facebook’s AR Project Aria.
A blog post from Facebook notes the concern that goes along with glasses that can, in theory, be used for biometric facial recognition or automated license plate reading. The company plans to blur faces and license plates, train employees wearing the device on appropriate use, and encrypt data.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation is not convinced that these measures are enough.
Facebook and Apple are both working on eye-tracking for their AR hardware. The voice tone analysis feature of Amazon’s Halo is also considered in the article.
What is required to prevent potential harms from these technologies, according to the EFF, is federal privacy legislation.
Researchers recently suggested that biometric data collected by health-tracking wearables could be vulnerable to hacking, adding another potential data security and privacy concern.
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