Wearable Tech World Feature Article
September 29, 2015

Want a Cheaper, Simpler Health Patch? It Could Be Ready Soon

While wearable devices have already proven to be a pretty major advancement in the healthcare field, effectively implementing wearable healthcare tech has faced some major setbacks. Batteries are one of those setbacks, with some believing that the lack of appropriate battery technology is holding back the entire field. But new word from the University of Texas at Austin's Cockrell School of Engineering suggests that one breed of healthcare wearable—a flexible patch—could be closer to ready than expected.

UT Austin researchers discovered a way to make wearable patches that could continuously monitor vital signs, watching for unusual discrepancies that might mark a problem in the making. Made via a “cut-and-paste” method that's repeatable with each new patch, the patent-pending process was more fully described in a research paper released from the group behind it. With the cut-and-paste method, manufacturing time drops from a period of several days to around 20 minutes. Better yet, the researchers believe that this new process will actually work with currently used “roll-to-roll manufacturing,” in which devices can be created in bulk using flexible plastic.

As noted by Assistant Professor Nanshu Lu, disposable electronics that can be inexpensively made and supplied are far more likely to be used, which in turn helps drive further innovation in the field. It also helps that the patches exceed performance when measured against standard device equivalents; reports suggest that the patches actually picked up body signals better than, among other devices, an electrocardiogram (ECG). Better yet, since the patch is designed to closely conform to the skin on which it's placed—almost like a temporary tattoo by some reports—the chances of error falls dramatically.

The formula adds up to big potential results. Not only are we looking at a kind of wearable technology that has some clear gains for healthcare, generating better results than machines that have been standards for decades, but we also have a wearable technology that's vastly less expensive than said machines. When a certain kind of technology is just less expensive, some will consider it thanks to the savings. It may not be enough to tip the scales, but it's certainly on the menu. But when a technology can be both less expensive and superior in quality? That's a proposition few can reasonably resist, and the kind of proposition hospitals need right now as the costs of healthcare spiral ever upward and threaten to fundamentally limit access to this lifesaving system.

Wearable technology has a great potential in healthcare, and we've already seen some of that potential realized. The farther along we go, the more we'll likely see come out of the healthcare wearables sector, and the developments from the University of Texas at Austin may ultimately prove to be the next generation of medical tools that help save money and deliver better care all at the same time.

Edited by Kyle Piscioniere

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