Smart Dressings – towards Intelligent, Autonomous Woundcare
Among the emerging applications of advanced MedTech, one that has especially high potential for social and economic impact is that of ‘smart woundcare’ i.e. the merger of highly miniaturized electronic, optical and communications technologies with conventional wound dressing materials.
The resulting smart dressings will be capable of autonomously monitoring and managing the condition of chronic wounds in the home, and will have enormous impact in the early diagnosis, efficient management and advanced treatment of conditions such as diabetic, venous and pressure ulcers.
Unsurprisingly, woundcare is a challenging environment; dressings must be comfortable and unobtrusive to wear, deployable by untrained personnel, highly flexible, and safely disposable. Successful exploitation of the new technology will therefore depend on the development of medical-grade technology platforms for flexible and biodegradable electronics, body-worn communications, and advanced packaging.
A chronic wound is defined as one that does not heal after three months of treatment. The economic cost of prolonged woundcare is enormous; annual care of a single chronic ulcer is approximately €10,000, and global cost is expected to top €13.5B by 2025.
The social cost is immeasurable. Chronic wounds are painful, curtail social and economic activities, place a significant burden on families, and are life- and limb-threatening – worldwide, a diabetic foot is amputated every twenty seconds. Sadly, the prevalence of chronic wounds is increasing, due in part to the rising average age of the population, along with growth in the prevalence of obesity, diabetes and lower extremity disease.
Smart dressing technologies will facilitate remote care and alleviate the burden on healthcare infrastructure and national budgets.
Relevance for the Electronic Components and Systems (ECS) industry
Today, the field of intelligent woundcare remains in the early R&D phase, and there is no ‘smart dressing’ on the market today, for example, despite substantial patent activity in the background.
The European ECS industry has the tools and expertise required to make connected dressings a reality, but these must now be repurposed with renewed focus on the specific challenges of the woundcare industry. New capabilities will also overlap with requirements in other emerging domains such as point of care diagnostics and minimally invasive medicine, suggesting that common platforms could be beneficial across a range of sectors.
Significant opportunities therefore exist for the ECS to develop this entirely new industry, at a time when population demographics and lifestyle changes demand it most. Early development and adoption of the necessary technology platforms will furthermore position the sector as global leaders in advanced healthcare.
Enabling technology platforms
While much progress has been made in wearable technologies over the past decade, new platforms must be developed and integrated in order to enable the rapid rollout of intelligent woundcare. These include:
Flexible and low-profile electronics, including circuits, optical components, sensors and transducers, suitable for embedding within conventional dressings;
Advanced manufacturing techniques for reliable integration of microelectronic technologies with foam- and polymer-based dressing materials;
Biodegradable materials, substrates and power sources that will meet stringent environmental and clinical waste disposal standards;
Body-worn communications technologies for low-power transmission of wound status;
Edge AI to assist the clinical user in data acquisition and data interpretation.
“Get smart – advances in dressing technology”, Practical Patient Care magazine, November 2016
“Could bandages be going digital? Monitor dressing and electric pulses to revolutionise wound treatment”, Health Europa, July 2019
“Smart bandages designed to monitor and tailor treatment for chronic wounds”, Tufts University, July 2018
James Davis, “Smart Bandage Technology: Design and Application, Academic Press (Cambridge, MA), 2016
H. Derakhshandeh et al. "Smart bandages: the future of wound care", Trends in Biotechnology 36 (12), pp. 1259-1274, 2018
S. O’Callaghan et al, ‘”Smart Dressings’ for Advanced Woundcare: A Review” in press, Journal of Wound Care, March 2020