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Wearables set to bolster smoking cessation treatment efficacy

The increased healthcare benefits facilitated by wearable sensor-derived real-time information can clearly be seen in smoking cessation, the traditional treatment of which is plagued by a number of challenges.

Wearable technology has had a dramatic impact on many areas of life. This has been driven by the transformation of the Internet from a people-to-people to a device-to-device (and even thing-to-thing) catalyst of connectivity, all leading to the realization of IoT.

Connected ‘things’, including consumer devices and personal wearables, such as smartwatches, smart bands and even smart glasses, are now outfitted with an ever-expanding range of sensors – GPS locators, compasses, gyroscopes, accelerometers, thermometers, altitude meters, heart rate sensors, galvanic skin response sensors and more, which measure a variety of parameters. These serve diverse use cases, mainly for health and fitness tracking.

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We are now at a stage in which these sensor-rich wearables have evolved into a new and crucial information aggregation channel – an automated way to collect vital data without requiring users to manually log and record information. These capabilities have shifted wearables from being a cool device for athletes and wellness junkies to a clinical imperative.  This new channel presents an invaluable potential for a range of lifestyle applications and is specifically set to transform and revolutionize digital healthcare.

Today’s digital healthcare applications already lean on indicators delivered to health service providers via standard off-the-shelf wearables. If in the past, clinic visits and lab tests were required for pretty much everything, nowadays, wearables such as smartwatches, smart bands and other connected IoT (Internet of Things) devices make it possible to collect data on a range of conditions anywhere and at any time. They allow continuous data aggregation, enabling advance diagnosis and early detection of health-related symptoms. Caregivers can be notified and alerted to a patient’s health status and intervene when needed.

The increased healthcare benefits facilitated by wearable sensor-derived real-time information can clearly be seen in smoking cessation, the traditional treatment of which is plagued by a number of challenges.

Smoking Cessation Pitfalls

Lack of dynamic and continuous insight into the patients’ progress, engagement, adherence, drop-off or relapse rates constitutes a real obstacle to the success of today’s conventional treatments. At the same time, medical smoking cessation drugs alone, without intensive behavioral intervention, may not help people to quit. Key limitations of traditional smoking cessation treatment approaches include:

  • Poor long-term patient engagement and lack of emotional involvement – smoking cessation is a significant behavioral change that is only likely to succeed with strong support throughout the process. In fact, current research highlights the need to combine medication for smoking cessation with continuous emotional guidance, which is currently lacking in most treatments.
  • Treatment gaps resulting in poor adherence and high relapse rates – smokers typically visit clinics once every few weeks at best, and sometimes at even longer intervals. In between these visits, their doctors have no way of knowing what’s going on, nor of how closely (or loosely) the smokers under their care adhere with cessation treatment guidelines.
  • Dependence on voluntary reporting – cessation treatment today relies on smokers willingly reporting on smoking slip-ups, a requirement many find hard to follow. The need for patients to self-report also restricts a physician’s visibility into treatments adherence, or the lack thereof.

How Wearables Can Address the Current Challenges

Wearables embedded with advanced sensors coupled with sophisticated information collection and analysis technologies can help overcome these smoking cessation treatment limitations, specifically via breakthroughs such as:

  • Constant visibility and transparency – with a steady stream of wearable-generated data, doctors will be able to profile smokers’ physical and emotional states, while gaining continuous insights on smoking patterns. They will additionally benefit from constant awareness of treatment adherence, with visibility into the number of cigarettes consumed, smoking time of day and location, and the patient’s emotional states that may lead to a smoking slip-up –this can be observed via the galvanic skin response; a person’s skin temperature will rise in stressful situations.
  • Advanced analytics and predictive capabilities – with AI (Artificial Intelligence) and machine learning, emerging smoking cessation solutions will be able to apply predictive analytics to anticipate and prevent smoking episodes in real-time.
  • Automated remote monitoring – this is crucial. Self-reporting is a major burden for already stressed out smokers trying to quit. Knowing a smoker’s habits and smoking patterns is the critical data a doctor needs to make adjustments to treatments for each patient. Wearable sensors that can flag smoking episodes by understanding a person’s smoking gestures enables passive monitoring of a smoker’s patterns. This means the burden of self-tracking can be eliminated in favor of passive patient monitoring – a win-win for doctors who gain visibility, and patients who no longer carry the self-reporting burden.
  • Real-time impact on undesired smoking habits – with a direct mobile app or wearable-based communication to smokers, healthcare providers will be able to intervene in real-time – with alerts, supportive messages, and even personalized cognitive behavior therapy incentives – all to help prevent smoking lapses and increase treatment adherence.

Additional Considerations

Practically speaking, what would an ideal wearable-assisted smoking cessation solution capable of effectively addressing adherence and relapse challenges look like?

For starters, a wearable-based and machine learning-driven solution as outlined above. Also important is a hardware-agnostic design. This enables maximum flexibility, and supports universal deployment, regardless of the smartwatch a user owns (e.g. Android or Apple smartwatches).

This would additionally ensure the highest ongoing efficacy and future-proofing. By pairing any wearable monitoring component with any existing or emerging behavioral intervention program wearables will be able to support other “habit-changing” treatments beyond smoking – eating disorders, drinking problems, compulsive activities and more.

IoT and wearable-assisted information gathering innovations and advanced machine learning are set to determine and drive the future of digital healthcare. These technologies are highly likely to specifically revolutionize smoking cessation treatment adherence and help dramatically curb the disturbing statistics of smoking – still, the number one preventable cause of death worldwide.



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