The clue to tracking next year’s flu epidemic? Wearables.

By | 2 minute read | February 2, 2018

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

Connected devices are monitoring health and providing business insights. Every winter, the influenza virus triggers an eruption of sniffles, aches, and fevers. And every winter, people try to reduce their risk by getting vaccinated and loading up on disinfectant, medicine, and orange juice. But there’s one thing missing from this anti-flu arsenal: Wearables.

Newly developed wearables are revealing previously opaque insights about individual health that could help control a disease that the Center for Disease Control (CDC) estimates kills up to 646,000 people worldwide.

Getting health data in a timely manner is a challenge for health officials. In the United States, for example, the CDC gathers data from hospitals and clinics that report how many cases of flu-like symptoms they treat. But this information can be delayed if a hospital doesn’t have adequate personnel or time to compile the data.

The length and severity of the flu season is hard to predict because the virus evolves quickly. Manufacturers must reformulate flu vaccinations six months in advance each year, but they sometimes miss the mark. In Australia, vaccines have been effective in only 10 percent of cases this flu season.

But through a wearable thermometer and an app, researchers at Boston Children’s Hospital were able to predict flu outbreaks a month faster than conventional methods. In the United States, a company that makes smart thermometers claims to be able to spot fever spikes among populations at the city and neighborhood level faster than health authorities.

This technology is also set to transform the way companies care for their employees. The same manufacturers that use IoT technologies to track the health of their machines and predict equipment failures are now applying the same thinking to their ever valuable labor force.

In high-stress manufacturing and industrial environments, companies are starting to use wearables to monitor the health of workers in stressful work conditions, indicating when fatigue or other biometrics negatively impact safety.

The industry applications for wearables are enormous — from using data to create new products and services to making personalized recommendations.

That’s why a growing number of technology companies are getting into the health and wellness space, Scott Burnett, IBM’s Managing Director of Global Consumer Electronics, told Industrious.

“At CES this January, we saw 4,000 exhibitors, many start-ups and new firms focused on the health and well-being marketplace and addressing a wide variety of topics from sleep to nutrition,” he said.

While wearables surely have the potential to serve the public good and provide business value, there are still questions that need to be answered about how companies will use the data they collect before many may be willing to put one on.

“The new combinations of multiple devices and data — Fitbits, smartphones, the weather, what we eat, how far we drive, our sleep — will bring new insights and value.” Burnett said. “There are, however, some tough questions ahead. Who owns the data? Who has the right to use my personal data? Who do I trust?”