Health for all - why it's important to continue to explore the issues related to equality, diversity
Updated: Aug 14
After the introduction of the Apple Watch in 2015, the number of connected wearable devices worldwide doubled between 2016 and 2019 to 722 million.
Our collective interest in monitoring our physiological data, increasing fitness, and predicting ill-health has been steadily increasing, a trend accelerated by COVID-19. Tracking our steps, athletic performance, heart health, sleep quality, calories, and stress are among the most popular measurements. But so far, this technology has been restricted to wrist-worn wearables or patches.
EarSwitch®️ is the company behind EarMetrics®️; the creator of the technology which aims to provide the first racially inclusive and core in-ear wearable device to measure temperature, heart rate, pulse, and blood oxygen levels as well as a medical first: continuous blood pressure monitoring.
For health-conscious individuals, an in-ear device with the capability to take all these measurements at the same time will be popular. But we also envisage the technology to save time and money within healthcare settings.
The British Medical Journal reported that since the pandemic, where hospital over-crowding and the stretching of health services was highlighted, there is growing interest in the ability to remotely monitor the health of patients who may need hospital admission or have recently been discharged.
Indeed, NHS England is increasing bed capacity and easing the pressure in hospitals by expanding its virtual wards scheme – where patients are monitored and treated in their own homes. We are excited to partner with organisations on possible use cases of this potentially ground-breaking proprietary technology. These could include:
A handheld unit, like the ubiquitous digital ear thermometer – in doctors’ surgeries, hospitals, and at home
A continuous in-ear monitoring device – in intensive care units, for high-risk patients in hospital, at home in virtual wards and for people wanting to monitor chronic conditions
In hearing aids – enabling hearing aid users or their healthcare providers to monitor their personal health data whilst wearing the device
In earphones – for health-conscious individuals to build up a picture of their health and get even more from their listening devices
COVID-19 also highlighted a potentially dangerous inequity for patients with dark skin. A US study had tested for hypoxemia (a below-normal level of oxygen in the blood) in patients that identified their race as either black or white. Comparing results from these patients’ blood tests with results from the more common finger pulse oximetry device, black patients had nearly three times the frequency of undetected low oxygen levels compared to white patients.
EarSwitch®️ believes that we have identified the first racially agnostic central oxygen measurement from the ear.
There are other factors that affect the accuracy of the pulse oximetry device and which EarSwitch®️’s technology could help overcome. Where the patient’s fingers are too cold or they suffer from Reynaud’s, a false positive reading can be attained. Where there is excessive movement if the patient is delirious, suffering trauma or under five years of age, keeping a pulse oximeter on the finger can be a challenge.
Improving health economics
EarSwitch®️ was founded by Dr Nick Gompertz, a UK GP, who wanted to help motor neurone disease, ALS and cerebral palsy patients better communicate. When he began researching the possibilities, he realised the eardrum and ear canal may hold the key to transforming not only patients’ lives but clinical outcomes too. Today, this is particularly critical as the NHS continues to deal with pandemic backlogs and struggles with the demand on its services.
Oxygen readings are an essential part of the assessment for certain conditions, including sepsis. In cases where it is not possible to take an oxygen reading using a pulse oximeter on the finger, clinicians may potentially send otherwise healthy patients into hospital. We believe EarMetrics®️ technology could help medical practitioners reduce the burden on the health service with easy to obtain, accurate data.
Nick also realised that taking patients’ blood pressure, temperature and blood oxygen levels can use up several valuable minutes of a ten-minute consultation. With EarMetrics®️ taking all these readings in seconds, healthcare workers could spend more time focusing on the patient’s needs.
With hand-held devices used both in GP consulting rooms and A&E triage situations, EarMetrics®️ technology could free up ambulance capacity and reduce the pressure on the NHS by accurately assessing which patients need urgent treatment.
Safe and responsive virtual wards
EarMetrics®️ could offer reassurance to both patients and clinical staff in virtual wards through accurate and continuous monitoring. Data could be sent to care teams and the National Early Warning Score (NEWS) instantaneously through 5G upload or cloud-based systems.
Unlike current available technology, EarMetrics®️ could facilitate pre-emptive action at early signs of illness, and rapid deterioration detection, sending real-time warning signals of changes to vital statistics.
And with the accumulation of these massive datasets, the possibilities for new insights into health decline patterns and the implementation of new pre-emptive actions are endless.
Personal data stores
EarMetrics®️ in hearing aids would bring the potential of continuous healthcare monitoring to a cohort of people who would benefit the most. Continuous monitoring of blood pressure and heart rate in the elderly could flag acute episodes and deterioration sooner, and lead to early diagnosis of undetected problems. Where someone fitted with a hearing aid containing EarMetrics®️ technology falls, instead of struggling to diagnose in retrospect, their doctor could be able to study the data from the time of the fall to ascertain – and treat – the likely cause.
EarMetrics®️ technology in earphones would allow health-conscious individuals to build a bank of their own health data in the time it takes to brush their teeth, or listen to a song each day.
For chronic diseases, like atrial fibrillation, hypertension, cystic fibrosis and others this data could literally be lifesaving.
Inclusive technology, health for all
EarMetrics®️ has the potential to truly level the playing field for health equality. We believe it not only has the opportunity to be the new global standard for reliable oxygen levels, but could give reassurance to patients, be a long-overdue time-saving tool for medical practitioners, and bring new insights from datasets which could transform how healthcare is delivered.