The use of wearable technology has changed how we approach healthcare, and epidermal electronics are a promising new option. Wearable devices such as fitness trackers and smartwatches are already popular for tracking physical activity, heart rate, and sleep patterns.
Epidermal electronics are wearable sensors that track vital signs for monitoring wound healing, medication delivery, and disease detection.
They are comfortable and non-invasive, transmitting data wirelessly to devices for making informed decisions.
Benefits include early disease detection, faster diagnoses, and real-time feedback on treatment outcomes.
Advancements include improved sensors, materials, communication, batteries, and data processing.
Challenges include cost, production, data privacy, environmental sensitivity, skin variability, and regulatory approval.
However, epidermal electronics go a step further by giving us a non-invasive, comfortable, and easily removable way to monitor our health status, track medication use, and even follow how our wounds heal.
Here’s how these devices are being used to improve treatment results and reduce healthcare costs.
What are epidermal electronic devices?
Epidermal electronics are wearable devices that stick to your skin like a temporary tattoo. They're very thin and flexible and have sensors that monitor various physical signals. The sensors detect vital signs like your heart rate, body temperature, breathing rate, or oxygen levels. They can track your skin temperature using thermistors or infrared sensors, or measure blood pressure by sensing changes in your blood flow or pulse.
How to wear these devices
These wearables stick to your skin using a gentle and
safe adhesive made from non-toxic medical materials. The sticky part
is strong enough to hold the device in place but won't hurt your skin when you
take it off. You just need to clean your skin thoroughly before applying the wearable and press it firmly to ensure it sticks properly.
The devices are meant to be worn for a short time, usually a few days, and then taken off and replaced. The wearable materials are flexible, so they fit the shape of your body and are comfortable to wear. They’re designed not to get in the way of everyday movements and daily activities.
How epidermal electronics are used
These devices are suitable for use in hospitals or for keeping track of your health status for a short time. They are also good for monitoring wound healing and can help doctors follow the progress of a wound without needing to see you in person by tracking changes in your temperature and moisture levels. In addition, the wearables can monitor the delivery of medications, record whether you’re taking them properly, and how the drugs affect you.
Epidermal electronics are also used in clinical trials to test new drugs and medical devices and to keep researchers updated about the safety and progress of the participants.
What happens to the data collected
Computers use algorithms to turn the information the sensors collect into data about your health. This information is then sent wirelessly to a smartphone, tablet, or computer using Bluetooth or Wi-Fi. The doctor or patient can look at the information to see how the wearer is doing, determine whether their condition is improving or worse, or use it to help choose the best treatment option.
Recognizing the benefits of these devices
Wearable devices make it more convenient to collect information about the people wearing them without being intrusive. The medical community is still discovering new ways these can be useful, including the following:
- Epidermal electronics help doctors detect diseases earlier and make diagnoses faster, without the need for medical visits, uncomfortable procedures, and expensive tests like blood draws or biopsies.
- Can provide immediate feedback on how well a treatment is working by monitoring factors such as blood glucose levels or blood pressure, epidermal electronics. This allows doctors to make changes to a patient's treatment plan quickly if it's not working.
- The wearables are non-invasive, which means they don't hurt and are easy to take off when they're not needed. They're also comfortable to wear, which is excellent for people who have chronic conditions like diabetes or heart disease and need to be monitored regularly.
- Epidermal electronics can also monitor for early signs of diseases like cancer, which can be hard to detect until it's already advanced.
- The wearables can detect changes in data that could warn you earlier about a disease. This can enable you to get treatment sooner, preventing complications and keeping you more comfortable.
- Doctors can use the information from the wearables to make better decisions about your treatment and help you get better faster.
Disadvantages of epidermal electronics
Epidermal electronics technology could change the way we approach healthcare and medicine, but there are some challenges we need to overcome before it can be used by everyone. Cost is one major challenge because manufacturing these devices requires expensive materials and technology. This causes them to be unaffordable for some patients and healthcare providers. The slow and labor-intensive production process also makes it difficult to produce enough at a time, resulting in them being expensive and hard to obtain.
Data privacy is also a concern, as collecting sensitive health information through the devices raises security risks. Additionally, the accuracy of the data collected can be affected by environmental factors such as temperature, humidity, and physical stress. Skin thickness varies between people, which means the devices may not stick or function the same way for everyone. Finally, getting regulatory approval for medical devices is a long and expensive process. To overcome these limitations, ongoing research and development are necessary to make the technology affordable, scalable, and secure.
The future of epidermal wearables
Scientists are continuously discovering ways to make epidermal electronic technology better. These include the ability to track heart rate, respiratory rate, blood oxygen levels, and skin temperature while, at the same time, providing a more comprehensive overview of health-related data. In addition, longer battery life makes it possible to collect more data, and the use of AI and machine learning support better data analysis and more personalized treatment decisions.
Researchers are exploring using epidermal electronics to deliver medications, track the patient's responses to treatments, and adjust the dosages or timing automatically. In addition, new built-in displays will show data in real-time, improving patient understanding and keeping people more informed about their health. These developments all support wider adoption, which will increase demand, lower costs, and make the technology more useful and affordable.
Epidermal electronics are advancing rapidly, and as these wearables improve their ability to help monitor and treat illnesses, we’re likely to see more people using them. The advantages of collecting health data without painful tests and inconvenient doctor visits will make a huge difference to how healthcare is managed in the future. Despite the current obstacles, there’s no limit to the possibilities of this exciting technology.
If you feel you’re a candidate for epidermal electronic monitoring, speak to your doctor to find out whether this is an option for you.
- Advanced Science News. Epidermal Electronics – A Step Closer to Wearable Diagnostic “Labs".
- Matter. Skin-interfaced sensors in digital medicine: from materials to applications.
- Association for Computing Machinery. Next Steps in Epidermal Computing: Opportunities and Challenges for Soft On-Skin Devices.
- Wired Magazine. Electronic Second Skins Are the Wearables of the Future.