It’s been at least a decade since I first started hearing about the great things that would someday come out of the integration of sensors into the healthcare technology set. (Remember sensor socks?) Now, it could be that some of that promise is on the verge of being realized.
According to IDTechEx technology analysts Dr. Nadia Tsao and Dr. Ivan De Backer, a few trends attracted a lot of buzz at the recent Healthcare Sensor Innovations 2019 show.
One hot topic at the show was the benefits of integrating printed electronics into healthcare devices, Tsao and De Backer said. Since electronics can be printed on a wide variety of materials, including plastic, textiles, paper and foil, device makers can create flexible, foldable and stretchable medical sensors that can be used in far more settings than rigid electronics. To make sure patients are comfortable, it will be particularly important that sensors come in flexible and thin form factors, especially when creating electronic skin patches and smart clothing, speakers said.
Another popular theme was the ways in which wearable sensors could bring more sensitivity to remote patient monitoring. Speakers at the show warned that when developing new healthcare sensors, it will be important to bear in mind that the value of each measurement will need to be weighed against the added complexity these measures will bring to patient or clinical workflows. They also noted that it will be critical to verify and validate data measured by the devices.
Yet another issue on attendees’ radar was the extent to which innovations in wearable technology and sensors can help patients with chronic diseases manage their conditions. Speakers talked about working to bring sensors into the mix to better quantify disease symptoms, as well as to help predict and prevent acute episodes of illness, especially in the case of conditions like rheumatoid arthritis whose progression is usually measured by patient perception.
This is good stuff. It’s great to see that medical device makers and their partners aren’t just speculating anymore – that they’re starting to drill down into sensor use cases like chronic disease management and identify measurement gaps that they can close.
On the other hand, it seems that while healthcare sensor developers have gotten closer to where they want to be, they’re still thinking in “ifs” and “maybes,” rather than preparing to bring well-defined products to market. I’m not saying that this is a bad thing; I just think it’s best to be clear about where emerging technologies stand in their path to market acceptance.
The truth is, it’s likely that we’ll never see a next-gen wearable or medical-grade remote monitoring device deliver on its promise without the use of next-gen sensors. Let’s hope that this industry continues to zero in on practical applications of healthcare sensor technology. It’s great to learn that we’re getting close.