The problem with wearables is that usually people stop wearing them. According to one recent report, one-third of users of activity-tracking wearables, like the Fitbit and the Jawbone, toss their devices aside after just six months.
To overcome this, a small cadre of companies has been furiously working to develop smaller, sleeker, more discreet devices that monitor health and wellness—in the form of temporary tattoos, band-aids, and ingestible pills.
MC10’s Biostamp is one of the contenders. Thinner than a band-aid, and the size of just two postage stamps, the Biostamp can be affixed to any part of the body. Its sensors can monitor temperature, movement, heart rate and more, and transmit this data wirelessly back to patients and their clinicians.
The technology itself is nothing new. It might include, for instance, an accelerometer, a gyroscope, and an electromyography sensor to record muscle firings. This is about repackaging existing technology in a way that encourages regular, consistent use by patients.
Devices like the Fitbit, while small, still have a significant presence on the body, said Joseph Kvedar, a dermatologist at Harvard Medical School and the director of the Center for Connected Health, a nonprofit dedicated to improving health care with technology.
"We have the burden of engaging you," he said. "We could get so much better data about you if you can just slap on your band-aid."
The Biostamp has not been approved for use by the FDA yet, but MC10 is intensively testing the product with healthy volunteers and will soon start working with patients and a major pharmaceutical company.
"I expect this to be on patients by the end of the year," said Nirav Sheth, the director of market development for medical devices at MC10.
Sheth plans to focus testing on patients with movement disorders like multiple sclerosis, epilepsy, and Parkinson’s.
These are diseases where close monitoring of irregularities, seizures, and episodes can help doctors prescribe appropriate medications and accurate doses, Sheth said.
"We need to measure what’s clinically relevant," he said. "And get the information back to the patients, pharmaceuticals, and clinicians."
The impact, he believes, could potentially be life saving.
Last month, Peter Schmidt, a researcher at the National Parkinson Foundation, and Allison Willis, a medical doctor at the University of Pennsylvania, reported that better access to care from neurologists could prevent the death of almost 7,000 Parkinson’s patients annually in the U.S.
Sheth thinks that the Biostamp can help provide that care. With little effort, patients using the device could share data with doctors and receive immediate feedback.
"By providing information we can overcome distance and disability," he said. "It’s that dual evil that prevents many Americans from getting the care they deserve."
There are a number of other companies racing to track patients in real time. Proteus, a company based in California has created an ingestible sensor that is a small pill. They are still seeking FDA approval for their ingestible sensor to be integrated directly into a pharmaceutical drug.
Another company, Corventis, has created a band-aid that detects cardiac arrhythmias. And Given Imaging is working on PillCam COLON, a pill that transmits live pictures from a patient’s gastrointestinal tract.
A slew of products related to monitoring health will soon be available, Kvedar, the doctor at the Center for Connected Health, said. Smart pill caps that record whether a patient has taken their medication are on the horizon as well, and different technologies will soon integrate and work together.
"We call it the Internet of healthy things," Kvedar said. "Having this objective data come through can be powerful."
MC10 is privately held and still in its nascent stages, so Sheth did not disclose how much the device will cost. But it will be economical, said Elyse Winer, the company’s marketing and communications manager.
"We want people to afford and use these products," she said. MC10’s Checklight device currently sells for $149.99.
There are a few kinks, of course, Sheth said. Since the Biostamp is a skin patch, wearing it for too long can cause contact dermatitis. So despite being waterproof and having a long battery life, patients will need to remember to remove and replace the device in some way about once a week.
Still, Kvedar, the doctor at the Center for Connected Health, thinks the next generation of devices, including the Biostamp, hold great promise.
Research has shown that devices with sensors can help lower the rate of ER visits, reduce trips to the doctor, and can keep people healthier, Kvedar said.
"We know that and we’ve already demonstrated that a number of times," he said.