This article introduces smart medical wearable devices in China.
Smart wearable devices refer to electronic devices that can be worn on the body as an accessory, implanted under the skin, or embedded into clothing with the purpose of creating constant and convenient access to data, information, and solutions. The growth of the wearable technologies market is driven by factors such as the increasing awareness about personal health monitoring, incremental AI technological advancements, and the rising prevalence of chronic diseases and obesity. According to GlobalData, the wearable devices market is expected to grow from USD 46 billion in 2022 to more than USD 100 billion by 2027 at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 17%. As for wearable medical devices, the market size is expected to increase from USD 16.2 billion in 2021 to USD 30.1 billion by 2026.
The current smart wearable devices can be divided into two main types: consumer-grade wearable devices such as smart watch, smart ring or wristbands; wearable medical devices for continuous remote monitoring and disease diagnosis and treatment. These medical devices can be further classified into two sub types: wearable medical monitoring devices and wearable medical rehabilitation or therapy devices. The first one mainly involves devices that can track users' vital signs to help users manage their health and make treatment decisions. For example, wearable blood pressure monitors to collect patients' blood pressure fluctuations, electrocardiogram (ECG) patches to record cardiac information, and continuous glucose monitors (CGM) worn on the body to track blood sugar. The latter one mainly involves devices that can assist patients in recovery and reduce rehabilitation time, such as wearable cardioverter-defibrillators (WCD) for patients at risk of sudden cardiac arrest, or closed-loop pancreas system to provide CGM and hormone insulin delivery service using an insulin pump.
Wearable medical devices mainly consist of utilize sensors, transducers, and data processing and analysis software. There are four main types of wearable sensors: chemical, electromechanical, optical, and electrical sensors. Chemical sensors measure the concentration levels of chemicals in sweat or other bodily fluids such as CGM to monitor blood sugar. Electromechanical sensors use electrical measurements to track physical movements. Optical sensors are very common to detect various biological signals like heart rate, oxygen saturation, or blood pressure. Electrical sensors primarily use electrical signals to measure heart rate or brain activity. When sensors detect signals, the transducer will convert the biological signals to electrical signals, which can be identified by processors. Then the processed data can develop personalized, real-time and adaptive health coaching interventions delivered directly to the user. Those wearable data will also be continuously stored in cloud servers or electronic health records for advanced data processing and visualization.
An increasing senior population and rising healthcare costs in China lead to the growing medical wearable industry. The rapidly expanding manufacturing facilities and favorable government initiatives boost the industry growth, at the same time bring localized competition and policy barriers to foreign players. According to Statista, medical wearables market size in China is expected to grow from CNY 2.7 billion in 2016 to CNY 21.2 billion in 2023. In 2020, more than 2,800 new wearable companies have been registered in China. New players not only include medical equipment companies but also tech companies. For example, HUAWEI’s Watch D has received certification as a Class II medical device from the China FDA. Hence, the company can sell the smartwatch in China with blood pressure, and ECG functionality enabled. As for financing, wearable medical devices is also the financing priority in medical equipment field. In the past six years, the financing is relatively stable with a total of 102 times and the average financing reaching CNY 3.4 billion per year. Despite rapid growth, the current functions or variety of products can hardly meet customer demands and considerable gaps exist. The future directions are the commercialization and diversification of medical wearable devices, and collaboration with hospitals or doctors such as remote medicine.
Chinese main players primarily focus on vital signs monitoring and chronic disease prevention and control. Andon Health (Chinese: 九安医疗) is one of China's largest listed manufacturers of home-use medical electronic devices. The main wearable devices include cloud-connected home-use blood pressure monitors and blood glucose monitors. Another leading company LifeSense (Chinese: 乐心医疗) focuses on smart healthcare including smart wearables and mobile healthcare. Its main products include wearable watches and electrical blood pressure monitors, providing medical-grade remote patient monitoring devices and cloud services. SiBionics (Chinese: 硅基仿生) is dedicated to the R&D and commercialization of active implantable medical devices and medical AI in the chronic conditions management. Its star product SiBionics® CGM provides a comprehensive solution for non-DM, pre-diabetes, and DM patients. Minimally invasive wearable sensors and mobile phone apps enable users to easily monitor their 24-hour dynamic blood glucose with no fingersticks. SceneRay (Chinese: 景昱医疗) focuses on deep brain stimulation systems. Its implantable product Aaxon RND, for the treatment of drug addiction, has the world's first patented technology—wireless remote programming and enables doctors to program the channel frequency remotely. Other players include MicroPort (Chinese: 微创医疗), Proton (Chinese: 质子科技), Thoth (Chinese: 索思医疗), Synapsor (Chinese: 深纳普思), ViVest (Chinese: 维伟思医疗), XIAOMI (Chinese: 小米科技), HUAWEI (Chinese: 华为) and so on.
1. Fierce homogenous competition
Many tech companies have added more professional functions into their products, entering into medical wearable device markets. For instance, Apple features ECG and CGM monitor to the Apple Watch while Fitbit added a feature to detect sleep apnea. Simultaneously, many healthcare firms that have not introduced software services in the past have shifted their focus to technology and its potential to revolutionize the delivery of their products and services. Consequently, the entry of those companies will pose fierce competition for existing players with similar products.
2. Data security and governance
Major issues related to wearable devices can be data privacy, especially in an era when big data collection and analysis is sought after by different stakeholders. Large amount of data available from wearables are collected for research and clinical purposes. But the lack of protection of sensitive data from undesired data breaches can hinder the development of wearable devices. Meanwhile, patient records are generally dispersed in different data warehouses across multiple platforms and health-care facilities that are not easily accessible. So patients' valuable data cannot be utilized, exposing them to safety concerns. How to achieve synergy among hospitals, industry and other stakeholders without compromising patients' privacy or accessibility to their data is still challenging.
1. From manufacturer to service provider
At present, wearable medical device focuses on the collection and simple analysis of data. However, the utilization and application of these valuable data have not been achieved. In the future, wearable medical device can be one of the entrances of mobile healthcare. Logging into the Internet healthcare platform, patients can be placed in a virtual waiting room in the app, then the assessed by a doctor remotely. The doctor will give prescription or medical advice online based on the data from wearables. Finally this medical treatment will be stored in patient's electronic health records that are available to other doctors. The wearable manufacturer will then help connect patients and professionals, at the same time provide more personalized and value-added services.
2. Attractive neuropathy market
Considering rising competition in vital sign monitoring wearables, many startups pay close attention to neuropathy such as epilepsy or Parkinson's disease. As the trigger of neuropathy is unclear in most cases and difficulties exist in the development of available drugs, the prevention, monitoring, and prognosis of neuro system diseases are key entry points of medical wearable devices. For example, Canadian company Steadiwea develops a glove to significantly reduce hand tremor in essential tremor and Parkinson's disease. US company BrainsWay's FDA approved Deep TMS platform is developed to cure major depressive disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, smoking addiction, and anxious depression. This non-invasive and effective treatment activates deep brain structures by using directed electromagnetic fields that generate excitation or inhibition of neurons deep inside the brain.
Digital health facilitated by wearable devices and big data analytics holds great potential in empowering patients with real-time diagnostics tools and information. EqualOcean believes the demand for wearable devices will encourage companies to develop more accurate and differentiated products, at the same time establish a multi-dimensional collaborative innovation model to involve hospitals, patients, service providers, and pharmacies.