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  4. Hacking your health: Is adhesive innovation a key to unlocking future wearable medical device innovation?
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  • Hacking your health: Is adhesive innovation a key to unlocking future wearable medical device innovation?

    Woman exercises with wearable device on her skin

    • It’s not uncommon for people to know how many steps they’ve taken today or how well they slept last night.

      Rapid growth of wearable technology is enabling us to track specific nuances of our lives, like steps and sleep, which can help guide our overall health.

      Looking  to the future, the wearable medical device market will further evolve as patients and consumers continue to “hack their health.”  Researchers are trying to find ways to enhance non-pharmaceutical therapies, digital monitoring and wearable devices to, for example, help the aging population live at home longer and improve virtual care. An industry goal is to offer increasingly effective, personalized monitoring of health and care delivery, so we can be more cognizant of what causes certain reactions and improve quality of care.

      To address this growing need, device manufacturers are working to innovate how we’re able to monitor, such as making devices smaller, lighter and less invasive. To  achieve some of these advancements, one solution they turn to is adhesives. Adhesives can play a critical role in a wearable device’s overall success, whether it’s adhering device components together or sticking devices to skin.

      With such a crucial role in device functionality, it’s paramount that adhesives evolve along with wearable medical devices to foster continued innovation.

      How can adhesives help save the day? They provide solutions to pesky design challenges, symbiotically interact with other device components and help protect the end user from harm.

      Below are areas where current and future medical adhesives may play a key role in the advancement of wearable devices.

    • 1. Lighter and smaller devices

      With the exception of mobile phones and TVs, the world of electronics is trending toward smaller, lighter devices. And wearable medical devices are no exception. The challenge is maintaining the device’s sensing capabilities and reducing friction to ensure accurate data collection. Flex electronics, addressing battery implications, electromagnetic interference (EMI) or adhesives may provide opportunities for innovation. Complete device integration might offer additional improvements.

    • A man jogging down a gravel road in Sacramento, California.

      2. When life gets sweaty …

      Trail hiking, rock climbing, marathon training, showering and swimming – these are all activities wearers should be able to enjoy without their device holding them back. Although situations in which a device may come into contact with sweat or other moisture make design engineers cringe, device resilience – and ability to hang-on during wear and tear – is vital. Having adhesive solutions that are able to handle everyday life, particularly in terms of durability and extended wear time, will help allow devices to stay connected with the user longer.

      A way 3M’s stick-to-skin experts have determined their adhesives’ abilities is by pushing them to their limit in human wear time studies.

      “Durability is important to medical device wearers, and that’s one motivation for why we design adhesive wear time studies that don’t limit participants’ contact with moisture,” says Diana Eitzman, Ph.D., Director of Agile Commercialization with 3M’s Critical and Chronic Care Solutions Division. “We eliminated those restrictions when studying adhesives and wear time. We wanted to provide that real-life tested assurance, so when design engineers need a durable adhesive, they know exactly what elements it can withstand.”

      To improve the durability of non-stick-to-skin devices, there are a variety of backings and adhesive formulations available.

    • A woman adheres medical patches into a person’s back

      3. Comfort and appearance

      Comfort and aesthetics aren’t new considerations in the design process. But with devices decreasing in size and some having the ability to adhere to skin longer, wearer comfort and device appearance will continue to carry greater weight when implemented into design.

      Comfort is particularly important for users required to wear a device long-term, such as continuous glucose monitors or heart rate monitors. Unfortunately, there are numerous ways an improperly selected adhesive can cause skin irritation and potentially lead to infection. Most can be traced back to the same root cause – compromised skin integrity or medical adhesive-related skin injury (MARSI). Proper adhesive design and selection can help lower risk.

      While forward-thinking adhesive manufacturers are continuously working to develop durable adhesives that are up for challenging tasks, but also remain gentle and comfortable on skin, design engineers have an incredibly important role, as well. They’re the ones in the field making decisions that directly impact the end user. Elevating the importance of end user’s skin – particularly in regard to how it feels – will improve future generations of wearable devices and will continue being a priority for engineers as they’re designing the latest in wearable medical devices.

      Although adhesives are a small component of wearables, they’re often the unsung heroes of device innovation. As the medical device industry continues to change the way we’re able to monitor and interact with our health, design engineers and adhesive experts will need to work towards producing smarter devices using skin friendly materials. End users sporting wearable medical devices will feel the difference.

      To learn more about the latest medical adhesive advances and get support in selecting the right adhesive for your next breakthrough wearable device, contact a 3M adhesives expert.