Scientists at Northwestern University and University of Illinois have collaborated on creating a wearable device that can be used to monitor patient conditions around the clock. The thin, flexible patch moves with the person’s skin, and so should be unobtrusive to wear. The patch requires no electricity; a matrix of 60 by 60 liquid crystals provides 3,600 points of measurement. As with the fad “mood rings” in the 1970s, the liquid crystal material changes color with changes in temperature.
The researchers point out that changes in that patch’s color can be used to monitor blood flow and even the dryness of the patient’s skin. The results of their study have been published in Nature Communications.
This is an interesting device, but its value is not clear at this point. The color of the patch must be examined first, and then evaluated somehow in order to provide useful data. Multiple observations over time will be required to determine if changes occur that might need treatment or other response. There is no way to alert a patient or caregiver to a situation unless someone thinks to look at the patch and is able to compare it to some prior condition. Compare this to a small sensor that is calibrated to measure biometric data (not limited to just skin temperature) and communicate it wirelessly to a device that can analyze the information, generate reports over time, and issue alerts if needed. This skin patch is a clever bit of work, but it may not have much impact in the long run.