How The Health Trackers Of The Future Could Turn Us Into Cyborgs [Future Of Health]

Near-imperceptible medical devices are being developed to record and communicate a variety of detailed biometrics.

As many people are adopting fitness and wellness trackers as part of their daily lives, researchers and scientists are hard at work developing smaller and more specialized sensors. These devices are designed to conform to people’s bodies as to make them nearly imperceptible to the wearer, giving us the ability to gather more sophisticated and accurate health data. Whether it is getting a concise measure of temperature from the skin, a blood sugar reading from the eyes or even clearer picture about a person’s dental health, these small and sophisticated sensors can greatly improve the level of information doctors can collect and monitor without burdening the patient with excessive medical equipment.

PSFK Labs’ latest Future of Health report has outlined a trend we’re calling Embedded Vital Monitors, which looks at how these shrinking devices are impacting healthcare. Particularly as sensor technologies and circuitry become smaller in size and more reliable, physicians and researchers are using them to create a new class of wearable device for continuous somatic monitoring. These devices are being embedded directly onto the skin or even ingested, to record and communicate a wider variety of biometrics. When analyzed prior to a procedure, they can be used to improve diagnosis and decisions about treatment plans, or provide a powerful follow-up tool for monitoring a patient’s progress after surgery or response to medications. Continue reading below to see what impact these emerging devices are already having on the healthcare system.

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Scientists from the University of Illinois have manufactured a wearable sensor that can be adhered to people’s skin and can monitor their temperature, hydration levels and circulatory system changes. The flexible sensor is a composite of gold and silicon and is attached to a person’s limbs using a light adhesive that laminates the sensor on to their skin. Once on the skin, the thermal conductive natures of the materials make it easy to monitor skin temperature (within a thousandth of a degree), cognitive state, and thermal conductivity (which is a telltale for patient hydration). Researchers are looking to add a power source that would add more functionality and enable better tracking of wearers’ vital signs over time.

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In another example, researchers at the University of California-San Diego have developed a temporary tattoo-like sensor that can gauge athletes’ physical exertion. The stick-on patch monitors chemicals in the wearer’s sweat by calculating the existence of key compounds, such as lactate, that denotes levels of exercise. Initially it was designed with the school’s mascot on top of the sensor, but could easily be customized with any design. The patch attempts to replace previous methods that require collecting a blood sample through multiple pinpricks to an athlete’s finger. The patch could be a much less invasive way to collect data on athlete’s training, serving as a highly practical advancement in wearable technology and could aid in pushing athletes to new limits.

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These technologies are even reaching inside the body, such as with The Ubicorp Lab at the National Taiwan University, which has created a sensor that can be planted inside an artificial tooth and is able to relay patients’ oral activity to a dentist using Wi-Fi signals. A small motion sensing accelerometer is planted inside the dental implant and a patient’s speaking coughing, chewing, drinking and other daily activities are recorded. Through the unique oral motion of each activity healthcare providers can identify with a 94% accuracy what the patient is doing. The device could be used to track a patient’s activity between visits to ensure that they are carrying out instructions by simply monitoring activities during the long periods between appointments. The research team hopes to be able to further shrink the implant, allowing it to be placed in between teeth, on braces or be seamlessly attached to other oral implants.

With the help of our partner Boehringer Ingelheim, PSFK Labs has released the latest Future of Health Report, which highlights the four major themes and 13 emerging trends shaping the evolving global landscape of healthcare. To see more insights and thoughts on the Future of Health visit the PSFK page.

Contributed by: Andrew Vaterlaus-Staby

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