Materials matter in wearable medical devices


Wearable devices were all the rage at the consumer electronics show CES in Las Vegas at the start of the year, and word has it that the technology also will make the scene at SXSW in Austin, TX, which begins at the end of this week. Wearables is a growing market by all accounts, and healthcare applications are a significant part of it. The sensors and electronics embedded within the devices understandably get much of the attention, but developing a medical device that patients will want to wear also requires product design and materials smarts.

The global market for wearable devices is estimated to grow at a CAGR of 16.4% from 2013 to 2019, according to Research and Markets. Credit Suisse researchers have made even bolder predictions, saying that wearable technology would grow between $3 billion to $5 billion in 2013 and reach a value of $50 billion within five years.

The $300 billion healthcare market can take a chunk of that growth. Diabetes monitoring, for example, is expected to reach a turnover of $10 billion per year, according to Lux Research. Continuous monitoring of vital signs is another wearable application that has tremendous potential. As healthcare systems strive to serve a growing aging population while wrestling with cost constraints, wearable devices that monitor patients at home can bring down costs while improving quality of life. The value proposition is undeniable, but patient compliance can be a challenge.
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