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COVID-19 pandemic altered attitudes toward wearables

Importantly, low blood oxygen levels often have no symptoms until organs are irreparably damaged.

A variety of wearable tech was on display at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas
A variety of wearable tech was on display at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas - Copyright AFP Brendan Smialowski
A variety of wearable tech was on display at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas - Copyright AFP Brendan Smialowski

Researchers from Northwestern University have interviewed focus groups about wearable technology in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak. These interviews took place between December 2021 and March 2022. The study population was with low-income Hispanic and Latine adults living in the U.S.

These groups often lack access to affordable health care and sometimes distrust existing health systems.

It is clear from the assessment that the pandemic highlighted a need for regular health monitoring. Thus has led researchers to conclude that wearables can provide an alternative to in-clinic monitoring for people without access to affordable health care and/or for people who distrust health systems.

However, for this trajectory to continue, the researchers warn that without more affordable, durable options, digital data and the use of wearables could simply worsen existing health disparities.

The researchers probed the participants’ opinions regarding wearable technology for health, their community’s perception of wearables and the features they would like to see in future wearables. She also asked participants about their access to Wi-Fi and other resource constraints.

While interest in wearables has increased, several barriers remain that prevent these groups from adopting wearable technologies. Not least because technology companies have designed current wearable devices with affluent, predominantly white users in mind.

Once used mostly for counting steps and motivating people to move through the day, wearable devices now began playing a bigger role in health monitoring. These devices can track vital physiological signals, including blood oxygen levels.

Importantly, low blood oxygen levels often have no symptoms until organs are irreparably damaged. Here wearables could detect early warning signs, prompting a person to head to the hospital sooner.

In terms of technology take-up, the researchers established how the COVID-19 pandemic strongly influenced perceptions of wearable electronics. Participants who felt apathetic before the pandemic expressed a significantly increased interest in wearables for personal health monitoring and management.

In addition to wanting health monitoring capabilities (for heart rate, oxygen levels, blood pressure and more), the participants also desired enhanced affordability, control over the captured health data and increased durability.

The study has been published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research, titled “Perceptions of Wearable Health Tools Post the COVID-19 Emergency in Low-Income Latin Communities: Qualitative Study.”

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Written By

Dr. Tim Sandle is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for science news. Tim specializes in science, technology, environmental, business, and health journalism. He is additionally a practising microbiologist; and an author. He is also interested in history, politics and current affairs.

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