The e-tattoo represents the direction of medical technology

While providing essential monitoring, medical gadgets like pacemakers, insulin pumps, and cardiac monitors can sometimes cause interference. The most recent medical wearables, however, are so light and flexible that patients may not even be aware they are wearing them.

How do e-tattoos work?

Electronic tattoos, also called e-tattoos or digital tattoos, are applied to moist skin where they remain for a few days or until removed, similar to temporary tattoos for children. Children's tattoos are purely ornamental, while medical tattoos can record vital indicators such as blood pressure, fluid consumption, heart rate and blood sugar levels.

Flexible electronic components, such as conductive ink that can record vital information about the person wearing it, can be used to create an electronic tattoo. According to Carnegie Mellon University, these tattoos are made with a liquid metal alloy to print ultra-thin circuits. Similar to a decorative tattoo for children, it must be moistened before being applied to the skin. Unlike traditional medical devices, these tattoos have more of the properties of lightweight materials; they can be bent, folded, twisted, or otherwise stressed without losing their functionality. It's like a smart band-aid, or the Internet of Things for the human body.

Thanks only to recent advances in 3D printing and circuit printing technology, digital tattoos are now a reality. According to The Medical Futurist, digital tattoos can be made from materials such as gold nanorods, graphene or other polymers with a rubber backing. Tiny electrodes in the tattoo can collect data about the wearer and send it to cell phones or other connected devices. Because they are in constant and direct contact with the skin, they will be more accurate than existing wearable technologies and may replace them. In addition, because they generate energy through electrophysiological processes, they can operate without batteries. Health wearables powered by the piezoelectric effect, which can generate an electrical charge in response to a mechanical load, were reported by Technology Networks.

Healthcare wearables can measure biomarkers that help patients and doctors keep track of life-threatening health issues, just like traditional medical gadgets. According to Medical Futurist, these tiny, non-invasive devices can enable doctors to monitor and diagnose cardiac arrhythmias (arrhythmia), premature infants' heart activity, sleep disorders and brain function. They are as easy to apply as a Band-Aid, but instead of covering a wound, they keep a constant eye on the patient. Even medical systems can receive notifications from them. For example, the device could automatically call an ambulance and send information to emergency medical personnel if a patient's heart rate drops to an unsafe level.

Here are three examples of this cutting-edge medical technology:

  1. Massachusetts-based MC10 has developed a digital tattoo that can record heart rate, muscle activity and movement. The device uses rubbery polymers and flexible metallic compounds to create a system that can "detect, measure, analyze and transmit" information about the wearer. It is much thinner than a strand of human hair.

  2. Dermal Abyss, a product of Harvard and MIT researchers, is a series of color-changing tattoos that can monitor blood sugar levels and fluid loss in diabetics. The tattoos use special inks that can measure pH, salt and glucose levels in the skin. For example, the ink's hue changes from green to brown when blood glucose levels rise, which could be used by diabetics to monitor their blood sugar levels. It also intensifies when the wearer's salt levels rise, which is often an indication of dehydration.

  3. A similar patch for monitoring blood glucose levels that goes a step further and also delivers medication has been developed by South Korean researchers. A team at Seoul National University has developed sensors that can measure body temperature and the pH or chemical composition of sweat in type 2 diabetics. The device sends the information to a smartphone app, which calculates the correct medication dosage based on the amount of sweat the wearer produces. Then the patch's tiny needles administer the drug directly into the wearer's body.

The future of medical wearable technology

Wearables such as e-tattoos could reduce the impact of vital medical instruments on a patient's life as healthcare technology becomes smaller and smarter. Most electronic tattoos are currently in development. In the future, these devices could be as precise and reliable as today's, but less intrusive than traditional procedures. They also look good, which may encourage more people to use this life-saving accessory.