Electronic skin patches could well be described as the ultimate wearable electronic devices.
They deploy electronic components, including sensors and actuators with appropriate processing, energy storage and communication, directly onto the body, typically attached using an adhesive.
Along with smart apparel and perhaps implantable devices, they serve as one of the most direct means to augment the user with technology.
IDTechEx Research’s latest market research report, “Electronic Skin Patches 2018-2028”, covers the product ecosystem for smart skin patches.
It reveals significant opportunity, with a forecast for total annual revenues in electronic skin patches to reach over $10-billion per year by 2023, and approaching $15-billion per year by 2028.
But the case for skin patches must be understood relative to the capabilities of other wearable devices. After all, why bother with a potentially messy, uncomfortable adhesive when a strap or clip onto clothing could be more practical?
Firstly, according to the research, skin patches offer much greater choice in terms of device positioning; as long as there is area for the patch to be attached, they can be placed there. This is particularly relevant when the sensor requires position close to a certain part of the body (for example, on the upper chest for sensing the heart, around the head for monitoring concussions).
Secondly, a patch allows for a more consistent means for contact between the device and the body. This may be required for the use of an invasive component such as a microneedle, or in offering a more consistent electrical interface for stable sensor readings.
These advantages are particularly relevant in the two largest application sectors for electronic skin patches today: cardiovascular monitoring and diabetes management. The report looks at both of these sections in detail, characterizing the features of the electronic skin patch products being used, the major players, competitive product options and market outlook.
In cardiovascular monitoring, mobile cardiac telemetry (MCT) devices sit alongside Holter monitors and cardiac event monitors, each of which can be deployed as a skin patch. They allow for different levels of ambulatory monitoring, enabling at-risk patients to avoid the risks associated with remaining as an inpatient, but providing a higher quality of data that can be achieved by other devices such as a smartwatch.
In diabetes management, challenges in the markets around traditional self monitoring of blood glucose via test strips are driving innovation.
Leading players have developed continuous glucose monitoring devices (CGM) which can give a longer term picture of blood glucose levels, and are even achieving approval to work directly with insulin pumps, moving towards “closed-loop” systems. Both CGM devices and insulin pumps can be deployed using different types of skin patch.