About 610,000 people die every year in the United States as a result of heart disease, and many more suffer from congenital heart defects that they were born with. The best way to prevent those deaths is to detect serious coronary issues early on, and that requires careful monitoring to determine how well the heart is functioning. Unfortunately, current health monitoring methods and devices leave a lot to be desired. That’s why researchers from Georgia Tech have developed this soft wearable patch that can comfortably monitor a patient’s heart for long periods of time.
Evaluating the health of a patient’s heart today is usually done using one of two techniques: ultrasound imaging or electrocardiogram (ECG) monitoring. Ultrasound imaging provides a very robust picture of the heart in real time, but requires large and expensive equipment. That means it can really only been done in a cardiologist’s office for short periods. That’s helpful, but doesn’t provide a complete picture of how a patient’s heart performs throughout the day. ECG monitoring can do that, but the patient is forced to wear a bulky device with uncomfortable electrodes stuck to their chest. I have personally experienced both methods on many occasions, and neither is comfortable.
To provide a better experience — and collect more comprehensive data — the Georgia Tech researchers designed a wearable patch that is comfortable to wear for long periods of time. It’s made from a flexible and stretchable substrate, onto which gold electrodes are printed. The onboard microcontroller can collect ECG data, along with information on heart rate, respiratory rate, and motion activity. That data can then be transmitted up to 15 meters to a smartphone or tablet to be recorded. Not only is this patch more comfortable and less conspicuous than a traditional ECG monitor, it is also more accurate because the electrodes move easily with the skin. That prevents anomalies in the readings that are common with normal electrodes.