Pregnancy Wearables Hit the Market, Raising Questions

Jared Kaltwasser
OCTOBER 04, 2018
bloomlife pregnancy,wearables for women,pregnancy app,hca news
How might ventures like Bloomlife change pregnancy?

Several years ago, Eric Dy, Ph.D., was a young biomedical engineer working for a company that made wearable technologies for the consumer and medical markets.

Although the industry was still new, Dy and his colleagues could sense that something was changing. They wanted to find a way to get in on the ground floor of the medical wearables revolution.

“We were kind of exploring concepts and ideas of what this new paradigm of health would look like, what would be the key steps along the way, what would change the way we think about health and delivering care that would lead to breakthroughs in medicine,” he said.

>> READ: Inadequate Health Records Are Failing Mothers and Providers

While they knew the potential was high, they still needed to find their place in the market.

They landed on a tiny niche. In the coming years, however, their target is poised to become a major segment of the wearables industry.

“I was trying to have a baby. All my friends were having babies,” Dy said. “And I was like, ‘Wow, there’s a lot of unanswered questions for people at this time.’”

Seeking to provide data-driven answers to some of those questions, Dy and his colleagues launched Bloomlife four years ago. The company markets a contraction tracker for women in their third trimester of pregnancy. The wearable and its companion app give women accurate data about the strength and timing of their contractions, enabling women to get a better understanding of how to categorize and interpret their contractions, thereby diminishing confusion in the final days and hours of the pregnancy.

Dy said contraction tracking was a logical starting point from a technological and patient-demand perspective.

“It was a thing that was pregnancy-specific, and that was the lowest-hanging fruit from a technical standpoint,” he said.

While Bloomlife started with contractions, the potential for other types of pregnancy wearables is vast. And Bloomlife isn’t alone in trying to capitalize on it.

Why Pregnancy Wearables?

A handful of pregnancy wearables companies have already launched products, from monitoring devices like baby-kick trackers to ancillary products that play music or other sounds for unborn babies.

Stephen Hawkes, the founder and managing director of the Developer Society, a United Kingdom-based non-governmental organization focused on using technology to bring about positive change in the world, said he expects to see many more pregnancy wearables.

“With large tech companies seeing health data as a new frontier, it’s likely we’ll see more growth in pregnancy apps as a result, as the abstract concept of data recording, analysis and outcome prediction are relatively untapped and well suited to the machine learning trend we're currently in,” he told Healthcare Analytics News™.

>> LISTEN: Wearables Are Saving Human Lives. Can They Save Hospitals Too?

The potential of things like machine learning can be unlocked only with the help of the kinds of data being collected by such devices.

In pregnancy, in particular, prediction could be a life-changing tool. Bloomlife’s tracker, for instance, can predict when a birth — even a premature one — is imminent. But Dy said pregnancy wearables have the potential to predict much more.

“The other end of it really is about identifying risk factors for preterm birth far in advance and then making sure that doctors are addressing those risks as effectively as possible,” he said.

Those risk factors could be things like stress sleep disorders, high blood pressure or congenital problems.

Life-Saving Tools

Preventing complications is at the heart of another new product under development: Researchers from Purdue University have developed a wearable designed to help predict preeclampsia, a complication involving high blood pressure and organ damage.

Craig J. Goergen, Ph.D., an assistant professor at Purdue University’s Weldon School of Biomedical Engineering, said a patent is currently pending for the device, and researchers are working with a number of prototypes involving a blood pressure cuff, an accelerometer and a smartphone.

The device can measure blood pressure while the patient is on her back and then on her side, assessing blood flow to the kidneys. Those data can then be sent to the patient’s physician for monitoring.

“We chose to focus on preeclampsia because while there is no comprehensive treatment for the disease, steps can be taken to increase monitoring and even mitigate the risk of progression by encouraging pregnant women to rest in the lateral recumbent position,” Goergen told Healthcare Analytics News™.

>> READ: Digital Health Isn’t a Technological Revolution. It’s a Cultural One.

Goergen said blood pressure checks in lateral recumbent and then supine positions have long helped physicians predict preeclampsia risk. The addition of the accelerometer makes it possible to precisely quantify lateral and supine positions, Goergen added.

“Since women with few/small ipsilateral renal collateral veins are more vulnerable to outflow obstruction during pregnancy, we anticipate that an [automated smartphone test] performed longitudinally will improve test sensitivity,” he said. “We also expect to optimize this low-cost diagnostic test by ensuring consistent execution, allowing for better medical surveillance and care in low-resource, remote and non-clinic-based settings.”

Goergen and colleagues already have approval from their institutional review board for two human pilot studies. They hope to begin clinical trials in the U.S. and Kenya within the next year.

Become a contributor