The era of health tracking is upon us. The ability to track details about our moment-to-moment health has grown exponentially in recent years, from Fitbits logging our sleep patterns and heart rates, to ‘Smart Pills,’ which transmit a signal from a microchip imbedded in a swallowable tablet to an iPhone in order to track compliance with a pill regimen. Recently, a research group working at Carle Hospital at the University of Illinois took the concept of health data to the next level by tracking body temperature and pressure in bedridden patients and sleep study patients. Instead of tracking data from one point, like the wrist, they collected data from the entire body, which is a progressive approach in health tracking technology.
The newly developed skin sensors are thin, soft, wireless, and made of silicon. They have been shown to adhere to the skin without causing irritation, and they are waterproof, so they can collect data even in the shower. In testing, the skin sensors were placed at various points over the whole body, creating a temperature-map and pressure-map of the wearer.
Because they are wireless and battery-free, they can stay on a patient for long periods of time, and can easily travel with a patient between wards in a hospital, or from an intensive care facility to a nursing home. They can stay on during medical treatments and during physical therapy. They collect and transmit data to a computer every 3 seconds, so a continuous digital picture of temperature and pressure can be recreated online.
I personally don’t the idea of swallowing a microchip along with my medication, but this new study utilizing skin sensors has incredible implications for medicine. The study, published online in Science Translational Medicine in April 2018, explained that since body temperature naturally fluctuates between day and night, the sensors can be used to measure circadian rhythms. In this case, researchers tested the sensors in a sleep clinic.
The researchers also used the sensors to measure prolonged pressure on the body in bedridden patients. Pressure ulcers, also known as bed sores, are a concern for patients in long-term recovery who spend the majority of their time lying down. Bony areas of the body, like shoulder blades and the buttocks, can develop these bed sores, or irritations, from staying in one position too long. The skin sensors, strategically placed in high-risk areas for bed sores, can detect when the pressure reaches a harmful level.
Han, S., Kim, J., Won, S.M., Ma, Y., Kang, D., Xie, Z., … Rogers, J.A. (2018). Battery-free, wireless sensors for full-body pressure and temperature mapping. Science Translational Medicine, 20(435). [Published online 04 Apr 2018]. DOI: 10.1126/scitranslmed.aan4950.