Aug 14, 2023
What Are Smart Bandages and How Do They Work?
Smart bandages could help wounds to heal faster, but do they have unseen downsides? Most of us stick on a bandage when we get a scratch, cut, or burn. But this little health accessory has now been
Smart bandages could help wounds to heal faster, but do they have unseen downsides?
Most of us stick on a bandage when we get a scratch, cut, or burn. But this little health accessory has now been taken to the next level. Smart bandages may change the game for many of us, but how do they work, and are they safe?
A smart bandage is a gadget that can cover a wound while monitoring the healing process.
Smart devices have been all the rage for some time. Your toothbrush, watch, light bulbs, and even your washing machine can now come in smart form, meaning they can digitally communicate their status, send and receive data, and more. Bandages have now joined this trend. Making an already-electrical device smart is one thing, but how can a simple bandage be transformed into a tech appliance?
Smart bandages look nothing like the ones you'll find at your local convenience store. Rather, these little devices look more like translucent circuit boards.
A typical bandage is applied to the wound to ward off bacteria and encourage faster healing. You can also get band-aids with ointments, salves, and other useful properties. But at the end of the day, a bandage is just a wound cover. Your typical store-bought bandage will come with an adhesive layer and a smaller absorbent layer underneath.
Smart bandages, on the other hand, are made using a flexible polymer material that comprises a small circuit board and an adhesive patch. The circuit board can be used repeatedly, whereas the patch is disposed of after each time. Smart bandages are also designed to cover your wound from infection but come with several additional features. For starters, a smart bandage comes with biosensors that monitor various wound factors, including pH level and temperature. Other factors, like possible infections and glucose levels, can also be monitored.
When a smart bandage collects this data, it can be sent to the relevant computer(s) via a wireless connection. This allows doctors, the user, or other authorized parties to monitor the healing process.
The electrical circuit within the bandage isn't just for monitoring biological factors. This circuit can also aid healing via electrical stimulations, as well as the release of drugs via the bandage. Some smart bandages have also been designed with UV light-emitting diodes (LEDs), which sterilize the wound and avoid infection.
NIH research reported that smart bandages improved the process of wound healing in mice, stating that "skin wounds on mice treated with electrical stimulation provided by the smart bandage healed about 25% more quickly than those covered with a standard sterile dressing."
With such an excellent result, it's no surprise that there's excitement around the potential of smart bandages in human healthcare.
Smart bandages wouldn't just be helpful for regular individuals and their occasional wounds. Some people are more exposed to regular skin wounds, such as those with chronic conditions or working in dangerous environments like construction sites and mines. It was stated in a 2016 Systematic Reviews journal article that 6.5 million patients are affected by chronic wounds each year in the US.
Having access to smart bandages can help these patients heal more effectively and better understand the nature and progress of their wounds.
For all their perks, there are a number of concerns that come with smart bandages, ranging from physical side effects to user privacy.
Even typical bandages can cause physical side effects, particularly rashes. But smart bandages may present a whole new set of possible side effects, such as issues stemming from electrical impulses or drug issuance. For example, the patient may suffer if a drug is issued from the bandage at too high a dose.
On the other hand, smart bandages can remove the risk of other side effects. If a smart bandage can detect signs of and remove a bacterial infection early on, the patient may not have to go through a full course of antibiotics, which may cause side effects like nausea, stomach issues, and vomiting.
As we've already discussed, smart bandages can gather certain biological data, such as your wound's temperature and pH level, and send it off to other computers. Collecting this kind of data seems harmless on paper, but wirelessly transmitting it to another system poses privacy risks.
For instance, a malicious actor could compromise the wireless connection between the smart bandage and the connected computer, allowing them to see what injuries a person has, what drugs they're using to heal, and their vital signs.
You can't steal someone's identity with health data alone, but it is still personal, and many patients want their health information to remain between themselves and their healthcare provider.
If a smart bandage is assigned to a specific individual, there may also be other personal information, such as names and contact details, that could be accessed via a hack. This is especially true if the smart bandage is connected to an app, wherein valuable user data is stored.
If the app is not properly secured, a user's health and contact data may become vulnerable.
As you've likely guessed, smart bandages aren't as affordable as regular bandages, as they are much more advanced than a simple adhesive strip.
The specifics of how affordable smart bandages will be will come later when they are officially rolled out for human use. But there's a good chance that these products won't be very accessible for lower-income individuals, especially those that don't have health insurance.
In other countries, smart bandages may come for free. For instance, the UK may make smart bandages accessible via the National Health Service (NHS), meaning citizens don't have to pay upfront to use this health product. But this is all just speculation for now.
At the moment, smart bandages aren't available commercially and are still very much in their experimental phase. It may be some years before this kind of health product can be bought by the public, so there are still many questions yet to be answered.
Regardless of how things develop, certain information about your health will likely be collected and passed on by smart bandages. If this sounds too invasive, it may be best to steer clear.
With the ability to monitor health data and encourage wound healing, smart bandages could improve millions of people's lives. As time passes, smart bandages may prove themselves hugely useful, but there are risks that need to be considered before releasing them onto the market.
Katie has been writing about tech-based topics for two years, with a specific interest in cybersecurity, AI, and cryptocurrency. Katie has covered a variety of topics during her time at MUO, including crypto explainers, cybersecurity guides, VPN reviews, recent hacks, and software tutorials. With a passion for emerging tech, Katie is also excited to see what new devices and digital platforms the coming years will bring.