We are all familiar with smartwatches and other devices that monitor fitness parameters like the number of steps you’ve taken and your heart rate. Now let’s take that to the next level: electronic textiles, better known as e-textiles. E-textiles are made up of cloth intertwined with wires that create a fabric that can monitor body function. As digital health solutions are becoming more and more popular, e-textiles are an emerging trend that can revolutionize healthcare as we know it, both in research and treatments.
According to IDTechEx Research, the market for e-textiles will be worth over 1.4 billion dollars by 2030. Imagine a blanket that can detect bed sores, a vest that measures water accumulation in your lungs, or a T-shirt that relieves back pain. These products are currently in development, and the possibilities are endless. For example, in 2018, Advanced Functional Fabrics of America (AFFOA) announced that it had created a low-cost fabric consisting of a layer of ultra-fine copper wires and semiconductors into a polymer form. The result? Fibers capable of sending and receiving heart rate and blood oxygenation levels.
E-textiles can be used to innovate healthcare in a few significant areas: saving time, cutting costs, and improving the quality of care. A patient wearing an e-textile can supply their provider with vitals and other relevant information to be analyzed prior to an appointment, allowing their office visit to be spent on more complex matters. As far as cost savings go, as the technology advances and fabrics and wearables become more refined, e-textiles could one day replace expense machinery. Finally, and we think most importantly, e-textiles can lead to an improved quality of care by providing non-invasive monitoring solutions that can increase patient participation and improve treatment for that individual. It is undoubtedly more comfortable to wear a particular shirt than to walk around with wired sensors connected to a fanny pack.
One day soon, the next trending device could be found in your doctor’s office.