- Amid all the hype over fitness bands, smartwatches and smart clothing, a new type of wearable biosensor is starting to find traction in healthcare.
So-called smart patches are flexible, adhesive patches that stick to the skin, like a bandage or tattoo. They’re designed to be lightweight, flexible and all-but-invisible to the wearer, while measuring vital signs or certain external conditions, such as sunlight.
“A little more than five years ago nobody was talking about this because the (technology) really didn’t exist then,” says Valeska Schroeder, senior vice president of product management for Vital Connect, which debuted a disposable patch at the HIMSS16 Conference and Exhibition earlier this month in Las Vegas. Now, she says, the medical community is starting to take notice.
Vital Connect launched in 2011 in Silicon Valley with the HealthPatch MD, an FDA-approved patch - partly reusable and partly disposable – that measured single-lead ECG, heart rate, heart rate variability, respiratory rate, skin temperature, posture, step count and fall detection. With VitalPatch, that sensor array is now contained in a peel-and-stick patch that can be worn for a short period of time, then simply tossed in the trash.
Schroeder says the patch appeals to healthcare providers who want constant monitoring of a patient’s vital signs, particularly in non-acute areas of the hospital. With the disposable form factor and a new partnership (announced at HIMSS16) with physIQ and its remote patient monitoring platform, Vital Patch is now targeting post-acute uses, such as home-based monitoring, population health and chronic care cases.
Spurred by penalties for 30-day readmissions and a desire to extend patient care from the hospital to the home, providers are starting to pay attention to remote monitoring platforms, many of which combine wearables or home-based monitoring devices with wireless communication. A recent report from Berg Insight expects revenues from these mHealth platforms to grow by roughly a third each year, reaching $27 billion in 2020.
“Digital technologies are disrupting and transforming medicine, allowing clinicians to monitor at-risk patients 24x7 while driving proactive, personalized care,” Dr. Stephen Steinhubl, Director of Digital Medicine at Scripps Health’s Scripps Translational Science Institute, said in a release provided by Vital Patch. “The net result will be significant for improved quality of care and a more cost-efficient healthcare delivery system.”
Schroeder says the platform is being tested in health systems as well as by pharmaceutical companies looking for a better way to measure medication adherence at home. It’s also drawn the attention of the Department of Veterans Affairs, which is testing the technology on heart failure patients at four VA hospitals.
Vital Connect’s East Coast cousin in the wearable biosensor business is MC10, a Lexington, Mass.-based startup that launched in 2008 with a flexible, wearable sensor array originally developed for athletics and fitness uses. The company made waves in 2013 when it announced a partnership with Reebok to develop a sensor embedded in a headband or cap to measure concussive impacts and signed high-profile athletes like NFL quarterback Andrew Luck and former MSL soccer player Taylor Twellman as spokesmen.
This year, the company announced two new sensors: The My UV Patch, a patch co-developed by skin care company L’Oreal to measure the sun’s effects on the skin; and the BioStampRC, which measures heart rate and movement, among other biometric signals.
Debuting at the CES show this past January in Las Vegas, the BioStampRC consists of four electrodes, a rechargeable battery, a gyroscope and accelerometer, a Bluetooth radio and memory. The company sent out early versions of that wearable to more than 50 research centers, including Harvard Medical School. It can also synch with other wearable sensors.
“BioStamps will give us new streams of data from multiple body locations synchronized in a way that lets us see correlations that we couldn’t see before,” Roozbeh Ghaffari, MC10’s co-founder and vice president of technology, said during a panel discussion at CES. He also told IEEE that the company is working on a Wearable Interactive Stamp (WiSP) that could be worn for certain lengths of time 9such as a race) and monitor a user’s vital signs, like heart activity.
With MC10’s technology, “you have this ability to really unlock a lot of the data in and around the body,” Isaiah Kacyvenski, the company’s global head of business development and a former NFL linebacker, told the Boston Globe. “We have a vision of mapping the entire human body with real-world data.”