By: Ravinder Dahiya, IEEE fellow and professor of electronics and nanoengineering at University of Glasgow
Medical electronics, such as smart bandages, have a huge number of benefits and can provide an accurate measure of vital physiological parameters. Intelligent technologies, such as artificial intelligence, combined with rich sensor data, have significantly improved the healthcare industry over recent years, especially throughout the global pandemic. Advancement with medical electronics and more automation in hospitals has significantly improved patient care, while enhancing efficiency for healthcare workers.
As more innovation is introduced into the healthcare industry, it is expected to support the growing need for remote medical services, without spatial and temporal restrictions. Additionally, innovative technologies can benefit members of society, such as senior citizens, who can suffer from reduced mobility and a lack of access to professional medical services. For example, in Norway1, where robots can mimic consumer products and remind patients when to take medication and control the quantity available. It is expected that similar technologies will be governed by the continuous use intention, not just technology acceptance or adoption rates.
Developments with medical electronics
Continuous developments with medical electronics has resulted in a more refined outcome, which suits the needs of healthcare workers and patients. Medical devices are designed to operate safely over extended periods of time and provide monitoring, therapeutic or life-sustaining functions for patients. Collaborations between nanotech engineers, surgeons, radiologists, physiologists, and pharmacists has also majorly contributed to the advancements, meaning it is now the norm for patients to expect quick and efficient responses regarding their health.
Previously, medical technology would focus on diagnostic and curative care, with devices many of us are familiar, such as pacemakers. As technology today is more sophisticated, there is greater emphasis on improving the lives of patients in the long term while enhancing the human lifecycle. Wearable devices and sensor technologies are valuable tools when it comes to early diagnosis, allowing healthcare workers to instantly recognise the urgency of an issue with a patient.
Additionally, advancements with big data can link genetic profiles to specific diseases and reveal how patients will respond to a certain drug. Big data within the healthcare industry provides insight on the volume of information captured by technology, which can collect patient records and help manage hospital performance. This supports the shift towards asymptomatic disease identification, where early intervention can lead to lower healthcare costs.
The power of smart bandages
If a patient is suffering with an open wound, such as a bedsore or foot ulcer, they will often need to be checked on frequently by a healthcare worker, so the wound can be monitored and heal in the correct way. Despite this being standard practice, it often requires regular and sometimes undesirable trips to a doctor’s surgery. Smart bandages are a recent innovation, which can significantly reduce these visits, revolutionising patient care for this kind of injuries.
Essentially, smart bandages are flexible, adhesive patches, which can be used to apply pressure to help a wound heal. The bandages use sensors to measure how much strain is being put on the skin, while simultaneously monitoring the patient’s temperature, which can speed up the healing process. Additionally, the readings from the dressing can be sent to a healthcare provider via a smartphone app, developed by researchers.
With the ability to monitor temperature and strain, a smart bandage is useful when identifying respiratory diseases, such as COVID-19. By using low-power consumption of the sensors, the interface on the bandage can directly operate from the energy acquired by the near-field communication harvester. Wearable strain and temperature sensors can provide information, such as respiratory volume and body temperature, which are two parameters that are rarely combined for wound assessment. This makes smart bandages one of the most innovative wearable devices to enter the healthcare industry in recent years.
Smart bandages can also be used to check the lung functions of those with respiratory conditions, such as asthma. The same applies for patients on ventilators, as the patch can be placed on their chest and the strain sensor to detect erratic breathing. The smart app connected to the bandage can automatically notify healthcare professionals, which speeds up testing and prevents sick patient from infecting others. Additionally, the bandage can be used by just about anybody, which has been a great asset for frontline workers.
Sophisticated technologies that work alongside big data are contributing to the overall growth of the healthcare sector. The last year has proven that innovation within the healthcare sector is invaluable. It is expected that devices such as smart bandages and wearable sensors will continue to emerge in the years to come, making it an exciting time for the industry.