2018: 5 million disposable, mobile medical sensors

By Jonah Comstock
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BodyMedia PatchAlthough disposable body-worn wireless medical sensors have barely begun to see usage in healthcare, research firm ABI is predicting they will rise to prominence very quickly. By 2018, ABI analysts say, disposable Medical Body Area Network (MBAN) sensor shipments will hit 5 million. Previously, ABI reported that 160 million wireless wearable health devices, of which disposable sensors are a sub-category, would ship in 2017.

"There've been a number of companies focused on or looking at the potential of this market," ABI analyst Jonathan Collins told MobiHealthNews. "And we're increasingly seeing it as more viable."

Late last year, the FCC approved a specialized spectrum for MBAN devices. As ABI notes and MobiHealthNews reported at the time, GE Healthcare and Philips both pushed for the creation of that spectrum. Although not all MBAN sensors are disposable, Collins said the firm sees that as a key use case for the new spectrum.

"That foundation of having specialized spectrum set aside for monitoring in US healthcare locations, the way that workflow works in professional healthcare and the spectrum registration, shows there is that interest," said Collins. "That combined with the way disposable fits in with the way healthcare tends to operate is providing a fertile ground for the development of these technologies."

The firm said that while Bluetooth Smart will continue to be the primary mode of connectivity for wearable sensors in general, disposable sensors will instead use a mix of Near Field Communications (NFC) and proprietary technology. NFC is a low cost and standardized option, but proprietary methods could allow for more complete or efficient data collection. In addition, proprietary methods can be cheaper and more quickly implemented, Collins said.

Disposable sensors can be attached to the skin and worn continuously, allowing doctors an unprecedented picture of a patients' health over a long period of time. BodyMedia was set to release a disposable patch called the Vue Patch some time this year. Developed in conjunction with Avery Dennison and licensed from Proteus Digital Health, the patch can track calorie burn, steps taken, activity levels, sleep patterns and more and will be used in evaluations for weight management.

A British company, Toumaz, which has a US venture backed by Nant Health's Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong, has already tested its SensiumVitals "digital plaster" in multiple hospitals. The disposable sensor continuously monitors heart rate, respiratory rate and body temperature of patients in general wards. It received FDA clearance in 2011.

Several companies use disposable thermometers to track fertility as well, although the sensors aren't actually disposable: a reusable sensor fits into a disposable peel-and-stick patch.

Collin's told MobiHealthNews ABI's projection refers to fully disposable sensors with wireless connectivity embedded in them. He also said the firm is specifically focused on the hospital market, as opposed to direct-to-consumer, although that might include disposable patches given to patients at the hospital that they can wear home.

Check out our Q1 2013 Report over at our research store.