Soft Wearable Health Monitor Continuously Measures ECG, Breathing, Heart Rate

Flexible health monitor
Image: Georgia Tech

Continuous, long-term monitoring of health is important for treatment process; it provides doctors with subtle information about the patient’s health. However, children, elderly, and people with various conditions often have difficulty wearing body-worn sensors. Scientists at Georgia Tech have developed a wireless wearable device that can be worn on the body for long-term to measure a range of physiological signals.

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The soft and conformable monitor can measure electrocardiogram (ECG), heart rate, respiratory rate and motion activity data as much as 15 meters to a portable recording device such as a smartphone or tablet computer. The electronics are mounted on a stretchable substrate and connected to gold, skin-like electrodes through printed connectors that can stretch with the medical film in which they are embedded, reports Georgia Tech News Center.

“This health monitor has a key advantage for young children who are always moving, since the soft conformal device can accommodate that activity with a gentle integration onto the skin,” said Woon-Hong Yeo, an assistant professor in the George W. Woodruff School of Mechanical Engineering and Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering at the Georgia Institute of Technology. “This is designed to meet the electronic health monitoring needs of people whose sensitive skin may be harmed by conventional monitors.”

Because the device conforms to the skin, it avoids signal issues that can be created by the motion of the typical metal-gel electrodes across the skin. The device can even obtain accurate signals from a person who is walking, running or climbing stairs.

“When you put a conventional electrode on the chest, movement from sitting up or walking creates motion artifacts that are challenging to separate from the signals you want to measure,” he said. “Because our device is soft and conformal, it moves with the skin and provides information that cannot be seen with the motion artifacts of conventional sensors.”

wearable patch on an arm

The monitor uses three gold electrodes embedded in the film that also contains the electronic processing equipment. The entire health monitor is just three inches in diameter, and a more advanced version under development will be half that size. The wireless monitor is now powered by a small rechargeable battery, but future versions may replace the battery with an external radio-frequency charging system.

“The monitor could be worn for multiple days, perhaps for as long as two weeks,” Yeo said. “The membrane is waterproof, so an adult could take a shower while wearing it. After use, the electronic components can be recycled.”

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The researchers developed two versions of the monitor. One is based on medical tape and designed for short-term use in a hospital or other care facility, while the other uses a soft elastomer medical film approved for use in wound care. The latter can remain on the skin longer, the Georgia Tech report said.

“The devices are completely dry and do not require a gel to pick up signals from the skin,” Yeo explained. “There is nothing between the skin and the ultrathin sensor, so it is comfortable to wear.”