In the future, doctors will prescribe hardware and software as well as just drugs. They’ll monitor patients remotely using wearable devices, or ask people to track themselves using apps. As a result, we may not need to go for check-ups so often, and physicians may become better informed about our conditions, rather than relying on patients’ subjective impressions.
For a window into what’s coming, look at this plaster-like patch from South Korea. It’s designed to monitor movement disorders like epilepsy and Parkinson’s, and it’s completely unobtrusive, unlike some wearable tech. Made up of very thin nano-materials packed onto a stretchy material, it can sense for tremors, deliver drugs in small doses, and record data for later analysis.
In a paper published in the journal Nature Nanotechnology, the researchers point to the flexibility of the device: The way it stretches with the skin, rather than sitting awkwardly upon it. In the past, fitting electronics, power, and storage into a small enough area had proved challenging. “This platform overcomes the limitations of conventional wearable devices and has the potential to improve compliance, data quality and the efficacy of current clinical procedures,” they write.
The patch senses movement with spring-loaded gauges. It releases drugs by warming elements a few degrees, and breaking down a substance separating the patch from the skin. Data on movement can be captured from an RFID tag in the device according to the MIT Technology Review.
It’s just a prototype for now. The patch has only been used in a lab setting so far (releasing dye onto pig skin), and it still needs to be linked to an external computer to work properly. But the plan is to house everything in the one patch, and the same technology could also measure vital signs like heart rate and blood oxygen and deliver other types of drugs, the Korean researchers say.
We’ve covered several other implants and patches for monitoring and drug delivery, including this lab-on-a-chip from Switzerland, and this “API for the bloodstream.” Looks like we’re all going to be hooked up to something going forward.