Edinburgh-based start-up snap40 is partnering with the UK’s National Health Service (NHS) to find out whether wearable technology can help detect early warning signs of trouble in hospitalized patients.

In a trial this April, patients will be fitted with upper-arm monitors that use multiple sensors to measure respiratory rate, heart rate, blood pressure, oxygen saturation, skin temperature and movement. Software then uses algorithms to convert data into useful information for medical staff, who are automatically alerted of any dangerous changes in vital signs. The 500-patient trial will initially involve two Scottish Hospitals, with further expansions planned if all goes well.

While many consumer wearables offer dubious benefits, with snap40 the connection between collecting data and improving outcomes is paramount. “People describe us as a wearable business, but really we see ourselves as an AI business,” Christopher McCann, co-founder and CEO of snap40, tells JWT Intelligence. “Monitoring 1,000 patients with a wearable won’t solve anything, unless you can help the clinician or the nurse identify who in that group of patients they need to prioritize. We take the data from our wearable and then apply that layer of intelligence on top—that’s what makes us special and that’s where we can make a huge impact.”

The NHS is facing increasing stress due to rising costs, an aging population, and a growing demand for urgent treatment. NHS staff are feeling the pressure of the work, too. In the most recent NHS Staff Survey, 37% of reported feeling unwell due to work related stress and pressure.

To deal with these challenges, the NHS is turning to technological innovations, which can play a major role in reducing the burden on short-staffed, stressed out medical teams, allowing them to focus on patient care.

In January, the FT reported that the NHS would work with subscription health service provider Babylon to trial a chatbot to handle non-urgent medical inquiries. Last year, JWT Intelligence also discussed how DeepMind is working with the NHS to determine how artificial intelligence can play a part in healthcare.

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NHS's Babylon bot.

As wearable health tracking becomes more efficient and familiar to consumers, we are now seeing more of consumer-facing devices move into healthcare. It is estimated that by 2018, 70% of healthcare organizations globally will invest in consumer-facing technology including apps, wearables, remote monitoring and virtual care. CDW Healthcare also expects wearable technology to drop hospital costs by as much as 16% over the course of 5 years.

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Health brands should tap into the consumer appetite for DIY healthcare. They can create products and services that track health, deliver detailed insights and offer advice, allowing consumers to take the doctor’s office home with them. As snap40 hopes to show, these devices have the potential to improve care and ultimately save lives.

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