Most of us stick to bandages when we scratch, scratch, or burn. But this little health accessory has now been taken to the next level. Smart bandages can be game-changing for many of us, but how do they work, and are they safe?
What is Smart Bandage?
A smart bandage is a gadget that can cover a wound while monitoring the healing process.
Smart devices have been all the rage for quite some time. Your toothbrush, watch, light bulb, and even washing machine can now come in intelligent form, meaning they can digitally communicate their status, send and receive data, and more. Bandage has now joined this trend. It’s one thing to make an already smart electrical device, but how can a simple bandage be turned into a technological tool?
Smart bandages look nothing like the ones you’ll find at your local convenience store. Instead, this tiny device looks more like a see-through circuit board.
A typical bandage is applied to a wound to ward off bacteria and promote faster healing. You can also get bandages with ointments, salves and other beneficial properties. But in the end, bandages are just covering wounds. Store-bought bandages usually come with an adhesive backing and a smaller absorbent layer underneath.
Smart bandages, on the other hand, are made using a flexible polymer material consisting of a small circuit board and an adhesive patch. Circuit boards can be used over and over again, whereas patches are discarded each time. Smart bandages are also designed to cover your wounds from infection, but they come with a few extra features. For starters, the smart bandage is equipped with a biosensor that monitors various wound factors, including pH level and temperature. Other factors, such as the possibility of infection and glucose levels, may also be monitored.
When the smart bandage collects this data, it can be sent to the relevant computer via a wireless connection. This allows doctors, users or other authorities to monitor the healing process.
The electrical circuits inside the bandages are not only for monitoring biological factors. These circuits can also aid in healing through electrical stimulation, as well as drug release through dressings. Some smart bandages have also been designed with UV light emitting diodes (LEDs), which sterilize wounds and prevent infection.
NIH research reports that smart bandages improve the wound healing process in mice, stating that “skin wounds in mice treated with electrical stimulation provided by smart bandages heal about 25% faster than those covered with standard sterile dressings.”
With these outstanding results, it’s no surprise that there’s been quite a stir around the potential of smart bandages in human health care.
Smart bandages aren’t just useful for casual individuals and the occasional wound. Some people have more common skin wounds, such as people with chronic conditions or working in hazardous environments such as construction sites and mines. It was stated in a 2016 Systematic Review journal article that 6.5 million patients are affected by chronic wounds annually in the US.
Having access to smart bandages can help these patients heal more effectively and better understand the nature and development of their wounds.
Are Smart Bandages Safe?
Despite all the perks, there are a number of concerns that come with the smart bandage, ranging from physical side effects to user privacy.
1. Side Effects
Even regular bandages can cause physical side effects, especially rashes. But smart bandages could present a whole new range of possible side effects, such as problems stemming from electrical impulses or drug ejection. For example, the patient may suffer if the drug is released from the bandage at too high a dose.
On the other hand, smart bandages can eliminate the risk of other side effects. If smart bandages could detect the signs and eliminate the bacterial infection early, patients might not need to go on a full course of antibiotics, which can cause side effects such as nausea, stomach problems and vomiting.
2. User Privacy
As we discussed, smart bandages can collect certain biological data, such as the temperature and pH level of your wound, and send it to another computer. Collecting this kind of data seems harmless on paper, but sending it wirelessly to other systems poses a privacy risk.
For example, bad actors could compromise the wireless connection between a smart bandage and a connected computer, allowing them to see what injuries a person has, what medications they are taking to treat them, and their vital signs.
You can’t steal someone’s identity with just health data, but it’s still private, and many patients want their health information to stay between them and their healthcare provider.
If a smart bandage is provided to certain individuals, there may also be other personal information, such as names and contact details, that can be accessed through hacking. This is especially true if the smart bandage is connected to an app, where valuable user data is stored.
If the app is not properly secured, the user’s health and contact data can become vulnerable.
3. Cost and Accessibility
As you may have guessed, smart bandages are not as expensive as regular bandages, as they are much more sophisticated than simple adhesive strips.
Details on how affordable the smart bandage will be will come later when it is officially launched for human use. But there’s a good chance these products won’t be accessible to low-income individuals, especially those who don’t have health insurance.
In other countries, smart bandages may be free. For example, the UK could make smart bandages accessible through the National Health Service (NHS), meaning citizens don’t have to pay upfront to use these healthcare products. But this is all just speculation for now.
Should You Use a Smart Bandage?
Currently, smart bandages are not commercially available and are still in the experimental stage. It may take several more years for this kind of health product to be purchased by the public, so there are still many unanswered questions.
Regardless of how it develops, certain information about your health is likely to be collected and passed on by the smart bandage. If this sounds too invasive, it’s best to avoid it.
Smart Bandage Has Lots of Potential
With the ability to monitor health data and promote wound healing, smart bandages can improve the lives of millions. Over time, smart bandages may prove to be very useful, but there are risks to consider before releasing them to the market.
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