The human body constantly generates medical data. This data can be used to determine the body’s health or illness and open the doors to the world of quantified self in which we all generate and store physiological information. They can become a vital tool for medical practitioners and other healthcare professionals. 

Over the years, improvements in medical technology have made it easier to read and interpret medical data, maximizing human health and productivity. Measuring this data has been further simplified by the digital revolution and the internet of things, leading to the development of wearable sensors

What are wearable sensors? 

Wearable sensors are wireless sensors or sensor suites worn on or in the body that provide continuous, non-invasive detection of biosignals, analytes, or any surrounding forces for monitoring human health and performance. 

Wearable sensors can be integrated into devices like smartwatches, smart rings, and other wearables or directly implanted into the body. They can provide continuous real-time clinically relevant data for patient care. The market for wearable sensors and devices is rapidly expanding and is projected to grow by 19.47%  in the next five years. 

This is clearly explainable by the potential of these devices to improve patient management. Wearable sensors are convenient, portable, and unrivaled for providing effortless continuous patient monitoring. 

This article will describe the different types of wearable sensors, their safety and future projections for the industry.

Various wearable sensors for multiple uses

Sensors came a long way from the wired electrodes we all saw in standard 12-leads electrocardiograms. In recent years, new technologies took of offering multiple ways to quantify physiological parameters.

Photoplethysmography Sensors (PPG)

Photoplethysmography is a novel technique that utilizes the use of infrared light to monitor cardiac functions, especially heart rate volume. It is as effective as the electrocardiogram in carrying out this function, however, it is more convenient and flexible for patients. 

Photoplethysmography sensors have different product designs. However, they all measure blood volume changes with comparable results. These sensors use LED lights of different colors – especially red and green; these lights are directed to the skin, measuring the blood volume.

Infrared has also been used, although it is more susceptible to motion artifacts that may distort the final result. These sensors can be integrated with devices, and these devices can be equipped with accelerometers to reduce motion artifacts.

Electrodermal Sensors 

Stress triggers many cardiovascular diseases and mental health disorders. Monitoring stress effectively is therefore very desirable. This is what an electrodermal sensor does. It uses electrical changes on the skin due to an increase in the activity of the sweat glands to detect the body’s response to stress.

These activities are easily detected on the palm and the feet, making them the preferred location for these sensors. These sensors have been incorporated into certain devices like watches

Electroencephalography Sensors 

Electroencephalography is the measurement of the electrical signal from the brain to evaluate brain activities. Traditionally, it used electrodes that were attached to the scalp. Newer devices have ditched electrodes, making them more convenient and comfortable. 

Electroencephalography sensors detect changes in the electrical impulse of neurons, and they can read and transmit this. These sensors have been integrated into devices in the form of headbands or earpieces, far more convenient than electrodes.

Wearable Temperature Sensors

The body temperature can be a vital indicator of chemical processes happening within the human body. This became more obvious in the past year as the world battled the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Wearable temperature sensors are a viable option for monitoring patients’ body temperature in the hospital with minimal contact and remote monitoring of patients by their physicians after discharge. 

These sensors have been integrated into watches, medical patches, and smart clothes, making it possible to record the temperature without inconvenience continuously.

How safe are wearable sensors?

Wearable sensors are medical devices. Therefore they are subjected to strict regulations before being available for use. The regulations that guide the approval and use of medical devices differ by region. 

In the United States, it is regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). In Europe, it is regulated by the European regulatory framework of the European Union. Overall, the devices in the market have been deemed safe. However, they are still subject to the process of quality improvement, and any complaint about their safety should be reported to the appropriate regulatory agency.

What does the future hold for wearable sensors? 

Over the past few years, telemedicine and remote monitoring of patients have gained a lot of popularity. This has been further amplified because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. This indicates that the future of wearable sensors is quite bright as there is likely to be more uptake of the technology to reduce hospital visits. 

The market forecast for this technology also points in this direction. Wearable sensors also have the potential to reduce the cost of care and improve health outcomes. With the growing elderly population, the need for convenient, accurate, continuous patient monitoring will only increase. 

Wearable sensors make patient monitoring a comfortable and reliable process. The next challenge is to make them accessible for all those that need them, now and as the demand grows in the coming days.