It turns out that adhesives are a critical component to the success of wearables. Adhesives provide solutions to design challenges and help protect users’ skin from harm.
Tony Kaufman and Del R. Lawson, 3MThe healthcare landscape is constantly changing, with providers continuing to focus on delivering patient-centric care. Patients are increasingly able to access highly-tailored care and treatment options, with new technologies allowing them to play more active roles in managing their health.
Wearable medical devices are a significant contributor to this movement.
From blood glucose and cardiac rhythm monitors to fitness trackers and smart watches that know weight, gauge activity level, track heart rate and count calories, wearable devices are enabling users to stay active and manage chronic illness from the comfort of their own homes.
Some manufacturers are already adapting to market needs by creating devices that are lighter, smaller and less invasive. In part, these advancements are made possible by adhesive – a seemingly small component. Whether adhesive is being used to stick a device to skin or different device features together, it’s a critical component to the success of wearables that provides solutions to design challenges and helps protect users’ skin from harm.
But keep in mind: All adhesives are not created equal or are usable in every design.
Here are but a few factors that are increasing the need for quality adhesives to support wearables:
- Psychosocial influence. Unlike people using wearables to track fitness, those using a device to manage a medical condition may be less inclined to sport their wearable device or devices out in the open. These users may not want to draw attention to their condition, and for this reason, smaller and less obtrusive designs are better. Use of thin, clear, breathable films and adhesives can enable a more discrete design.
- Style and accuracy. Unlike those managing an illness, fitness tracker users often want to openly wear their device as a testament to what they are working to achieve. Often these devices are worn as wristbands. They may be trendy and visually-appealing, but they lack the same level of accuracy required of a device meant for medical diagnostics and drug delivery. Band-style devices can allow sensors to slip, slide or rotate, causing an inaccurate measurement. Stick-to-skin devices, on the other hand, are innately more accurate because the sensor can be applied where needed, minimizing the potential for error associated with the adjustable fasteners used on wrist bands. They also allow for a “one-size-fits-most” design.
- Information fatigue. In addition to appearance considerations, it’s important to be aware of how the device will collect and share data. Consumers are constantly inundated with data, and there comes a point when it’s hard to take more in. It’s important to strike a balance between keeping data detailed and accurate without inconveniencing and overloading the user by sharing constant alerts. Simplifying alerts and reducing noise as much as possible, in addition to using a smart adhesive system, will help ensure user satisfaction and accurate data collection.
So how can adhesives enable wearable medical device innovation? Here are some key areas:
- Resilience and durability. Users who engage in rigorous physical activities, like running, weight lifting and swimming, need to be able to do so without their device being a nuisance. The prospect of a device coming into contact with water and moisture has historically been seen as a challenge, but with significant advancements in adhesive technology, this doesn’t have to be the case. Choosing an adhesive solution that provides durability and extended wear time will help devices stay intact and attached longer under these conditions. An acrylic-based adhesive with a nonwoven, breathable backing, for example, may be a suitable option. Adhesive manufacturers are constantly working to improve breathable adhesive and backing options that design engineers can utilize to increase the durability, resilience and wear time of devices that need to remain viable during physical activity.
- The skin should undeniably be a big factor when it comes to adhesive selection. Regardless of how long a device is worn or how long an adhesive needs to stick to skin, the comfort of both the device and adhesive is important. As a living, breathing organ, skin needs to expel moisture, flex and function as it normally would without a device stuck to it. If it can’t, it will do everything in its power to rid itself of the foreign object. A common design misstep is selecting an adhesive that will stay sticky but lacks breathability. Doing this can cause moisture to get trapped underneath the adhesive, potentially leading to maceration and other medical-adhesive related skin injuries. As wear time increases, it is increasingly important to consider comfort and how the properties of the skin may influence the application.
- Device size and weight. Consumers and patients alike want wearable medical devices that are smaller, lighter and less cumbersome to use. But wearable device creators can find it difficult to maintain accurate sensing capabilities while also reducing the risk of accidental removal from clothing tugs or wall and door impacts. Adhesives can help to keep accidental knock-offs to a minimum by use of an adhesive skirt and maintaining a low profile.
Adhesive technology presents a number of solutions to design challenges, from helping to prevent skin injuries associated with the device to promoting accurate data collection.
At the end of the day, the power of medical devices lies in their power to improve lives, and adhesives play a key role in ensuring that success. For more guidance on selecting the right adhesive for your next medical device project, check out 3M’s product selector tool at www.findmyadhesive.com.
Del R. Lawson, PhD, has over 25 years of experience at 3M in laboratory management, strategic product platform creation, and Lean Six Sigma operations. His experience has involved new technology creation in advanced analytics and sensors, biotechnology solutions and medical adhesives. Lawson presently leads new product development and commercialization efforts in 3M’s Medical Solutions Division..
Tony Kaufman leads New Business Ventures for 3M’s Medical Materials & Technologies Business. With over 20 years of medical device experience at 3M, he leverages his manufacturing, product development and business knowledge to bring 3M Science & Technologies to help other device manufacturers deliver life-changing devices to the medical industry.
The opinions expressed in this blog post are the author’s only and do not necessarily reflect those of Medical Design and Outsourcing or its employees.