Have you taken your medication today?

The safety of healthcare wearables starts with high-quality electronics, thanks to IECQ

As far back as 2003, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimated that only about 50% of patients with chronic diseases living in developed countries follow treatment recommendations with particularly low rates of adherence to therapies for asthma, diabetes, and hypertension. Why would patients eschew taking their medication? Health conditions, particularly in older people, may be a factor, but poor health literacy, cost of prescription medicine, lack of trust between patient and healthcare provider or simply forgetfulness may also play a role in non-adherence to medication.

Smart watch with ECG feature
Today’s smart watches offer basic ECG features

Medicines don’t work if you don’t take them

WHO defines patient’s adherence to medical advice – such as medication or drug compliance, medical device use, self care, self-directed exercises, or therapy sessions – as "the degree to which a person's behaviour corresponds with the agreed recommendations from a healthcare provider." Lack of compliance often leads to worsening chronic conditions and excess hospitalization.

In its 2003 study on adherence to long-term therapies, the WHO observed that in many cases medicines were not taken as directed. “Medicines will not be effective if patients do not follow prescribed treatment, yet in developed countries only 50% of patients who suffer from chronic diseases adhere to treatment recommendations. In developing countries, when taken together with poor access to health care, lack of appropriate diagnosis and limited access to medicines, poor adherence is threatening to render futile any effort to tackle chronic conditions, such as diabetes, depression and HIV/AIDS.”

Wearables to the rescue

At the time the study was issued, wearables as we know them today were still in their infancy. They became mainstream a few years later and achieved real popularity in the 2010s. Fitness devices may have taken the lion’s share of the market, but the healthcare sector has rapidly grasped the benefits it could reap in developing new and innovative devices that extend way beyond the basic activity tracker.

The very popular smart watches and bracelets that used to only count steps and tell time have now become healthcare tools such as portable ECGs that keep track of heart rhythms, movement disorder detectors, of particular importance for those suffering from Parkinson’s disease, or blood pressure monitors.

Technological advances have led to the development of micro/nano sensors such as subdermal implants, used mainly by those who suffer from diabetes. These implants allow for the constant monitoring of glucose levels, with the data transmitted electronically to a storage and processing devices, thus available at any time to the healthcare provider.

Electronics inside

Keeping an eye on one’s health condition is a first step in the right direction but it doesn’t guarantee that the patient will follow up with adherence to his/her medical prescription.

Ingestible sensors are another state-of-the-art technological development. They come in the shape of pills that, once ingested, dissolve in the stomach and send a signal to a sensor worn on the body – for instance a subdermal implant – each time the patient takes his/her medication. The intake is then relayed to a smartphone app, confirming that the patient has indeed adhered to his/her prescribed treatment. Ultimately, they can help track and improve how regularly patients take their medication.

Those technologies are certainly not mainstream yet but, when available, they may provide the healthcare sector with a few solutions to reduce non-adherence. Healthcare providers need their patient’s agreement before they implant subdermal devices or prescribe ingestible sensors.

Safety throughout the supply chain

There is one aspect that goes far beyond the medical domain and is purely technological: the safety and reliability of the electronic components that are used in the development of these new devices. As healthcare providers try and improve the way patients adhere to medical advice, they should pay close attention to the quality of the electronics that they recommend.

IECQ plays leading role

Even more so than in other sectors, the sensors used in medical equipment need to be extremely high-quality, reliable and accurate. Defective components are not an option since people’s lives are at stake. Sensor manufacturers and suppliers all over the world have a powerful tool at their disposal, enabling their products to meet the strictest requirements: IECQ testing and certification. IECQ, the IEC Quality Assessment System for Electronic Components was established in the early 1970s. The System has grown with, and adapted to the technological developments in the electronics industry.

IECQ provides industry with a supply chain verification tool for seeking assurance that electronic components, assemblies, processes and related materials conform to declared technical standards and specifications. IECQ certificates are used worldwide as a tool to monitor and control the manufacturing supply chain, thus helping to reduce costs and time to market, and eliminating the need for multiple re-assessments of suppliers.

IECQ is an essential player and a key partner of industry in the development of safe, reliable and accurate medical devices and equipment.