The Law of Unintended Consequences lurks behind any new technology, sometimes revealing unforeseen benefits but more often resulting in some negative outcome. Wearable Health Tech devices are not immune to this effect, and given the nature of their missions, the outcomes can have serious consequences. An article in Medical Design Technology lists four areas of concern that all wearable designers should tack to their walls, and look at every day before they start work.
- Chemical Reactions: by their very nature, wearables often come in direct contact with the wearer’s skin. Implants are in even more intimate contact with body tissues. We’ve already seen wearables that cause rashes or other skin reactions for some users. The article also points out the possibility of bacterial build-up, and reactions caused by contact with sweat or other natural fluids.
- Electrical Shock: Most wearables rely on electricity as a power source. When you push electrons around, they don’t always go where they are intended. Current can leak for a variety of reasons, which can result in shocks that could range from annoying to dangerous.
- Burns: We’ve seen devices from notebook computers to aircraft catch fire from battery failure. Efforts to store increasing amounts of power in shrinking spaces increase the risk of that energy being converted to heat. Enough heat in a small enough location can result in serious burns, especially during prolonged contact.
- Acoustic Sound Pressure: Anything mounted in or near the ear — especially hearing aids — have the potential to produce excessive sound pressure levels that can cause discomfort, pain, and permanent damage to the user’s hearing.
These are all serious concerns. Wearable Health Tech devices must have systems built-in that can detect these sorts of problems when they occur, and shut down whatever components are necessary in order to avoid harming the wearer. It will certainly add cost and complexity, which in itself introduces additional points of potential failure, but the industry needs to adopt a “fail-safe” attitude toward the devices it builds in order to protect the people who will use them.