In the very near future, tattoos will be responsible for shaking the health care industry to its core and saving millions of lives in the process. Not convinced? Then you haven’t seen the new line of stick-on tats cooked up by the University of California at San Diego and the University of Toronto. They’re being called “smart tattoos” and they are quite possibly the greatest implementation of micro technology the medical world has ever seen.
Their purpose is simple: to monitor specific body chemistry functions and alert the wearer of the tattoo how their body is holding up in a variety of various scenarios. The first line of smart tattoos, which is set to be rolled out in the coming year, will be for the specific purpose of athletic training. The tattoos, which look a lot more like small kiddie stickers than actual tattoos, are held in place by a strip of adhesive and are capable of detecting the pH level on the wearer’s skin. Tiny electrodes on the smart tattoo also detect other minerals like potassium, magnesium and sodium and can even register blood oxidation.
The durability, flexibility, and convenience of these tiny devices – “ion-selective electrodes” that are comprised of silver and carbon fiber – is almost as impressive as the technology behind them. In effect, smart tattoos make it easy and comfortable to do what up until now has only been possible through the use of bulky and cumbersome medical equipment. But the true benefits of this technology are a lot more far reaching than mere comfort, especially where it concerns the health care industry. The implications are, in fact, enormous.
For one, it has the potential of making certain medical devices entirely obsolete. Take, for example, the diabetic who relies on lancets and test strips to continuously check on his or her blood sugar levels throughout the day. With smart tattoos that can read blood markers, there would no longer be a need for a diabetic user to take an on-the-spot blood test. Instead, the information will be monitored on a continuous basis throughout the day, sending electronic signals for the wearer to receive (perhaps even one via a smartphone app) so they can know when to administer insulin.
While there are already similar devices available today, like the continuous glucose monitor, these are unwieldy when compared against the potential convenience and comfort of smart tattoos, which are even smaller than nicotine patches and capable of withstanding “repetitive mechanical deformation.” They’re even die-hard enough to withstand heavy sweating.
Aside from comfort, smart tattoos may also reshape the structure of the health care industry. As similar technologies are introduced, the natural result will be less frequent visits to doctor’s offices – something that could turn out to be a great benefit to all parties involved.
Doctors could conceivably eliminate their need to have physical office locations, opting instead to monitor and treat the majority of their patients remotely via computer, and the benefit to patients who would no longer have to physically travel to a doctor’s office could be just as immeasurable. But nowhere is the potential more impactful than in the area of saving lives. Having made it possible for patients with illnesses to apply simple devices that monitor their health, the job of saving lives through the identification of developing conditions or the anticipation of medical emergencies could eventually become a self-serve function.
The University of California at San Diego and the University of Toronto aren’t the only organizations taking great interest in smart tattoos. According to reports, Sano Intelligence is hard at work developing what they’re calling “an API for the bloodstream” that could be used to treat various conditions. Meanwhile, a startup company by the name of MC10 is betting that the technology behind smart tattoos will be a runaway smash success. Their chief aim is the development and production of stretchable electronics for use with a variety of different medical monitoring equipment.
Although it sounds like pure science fiction, smart tattoos are only months away from being available to consumers. Whether or not they’ll change the world in radical and unforeseen ways is something that’ll likely take years to become apparent, but the smart money says it’ll happen much sooner than later.