By Olamide Fadahunsi
Apple Watches and FitBits have been known for quite a while to be able to monitor your health—but what if your clothes had the ability to do that for you instead? Technology like this has been emerging into the wearable technology industry and has a stronger appeal than mechanical wearable technology because it is more affordable and comfortable for people.
This type of technology is known as E-Textiles: electronics integrated into any type of fabric that can sense changes towards a person and provide a response with either light, sound, or radio waves. The purpose of e-textiles in healthcare is to gain data on a patient without having to constantly harass them with questions. There are two types of e-textiles: embedded and laminated e-textiles. Embedded e-textiles have electrical parts woven into the fabric and are more of a textile product than a technological product, while laminated e-textiles have its electrical circuits printed onto another type of material which is then sewn onto the fabric.
Noninvasive sensors that are installed into the fabric can allow the technology to detect various health conditions and track a patient's data. Electronic parts of the technology are joined into the textile so it is not as visible and open to mistreatment which could result in the tangling of wires or snagging. E-textiles have characteristics of flexibility, wide surface area for sensing, cheaply made, durable, and thermal and electrical resistance. Additionally, e-textiles have the ability to sense data either biometrically or externally, communicate through wireless networks, and allow for parts of the electronics in the cloth to be connected. Thankfully, because of the extensive work that goes into the production of e-textiles, humanity has been able to gain numerous clothing that could help save millions of lives.
As indicated by a study published by the National Institute of Medicine, the benefits of e-textiles in a hospital setting include making a patient more comfortable, improving a patient's quality of life, and increasing one's freedom of movement. To illustrate, cardiac patients in rehabilitation had e-textiles which gave physicians the ability to monitor patients at all times and decrease a patient's hospital stay. E-textiles gave patients the ability to have more control over their condition by providing users with direct feedback. Additionally, the e-textiles allowed for personalized data of a patient's health which gives a better understanding for the doctors who are treating the patient.
Current applications of e-textiles in the Healthcare industry are numerous; these applications are mostly for the purpose of monitoring health conditions. For example, the startup company SirenCare has made an injury detecting sock to prevent amputations towards diabetics. The socks are made with the company's own electronic strand, allowing the fabric to be used for weaving machines and connect to a PCB battery for power. A sleeping mode is also available for the socks when they are not on the user and the maximum battery power for these when used daily is two months. Bluetooth technology is used to send data from the socks to the phone so that the user can be aware of the situation he or she is in if he or she needs to see a doctor. These socks are machine washable, durable, and do not need to be charged.
To conclude, the technology of e-textiles can be categorized into two different groups: embedded and laminated e-textiles, which both have very different characteristics of each other. Wearable technology has developed into e-textiles that are able to provide doctors with valuable information on a patient; this information could save many people's lives. If this is the type of technology we have now with e-textiles in the healthcare industry, imagine the future.
Q: How many types of e-textiles are there and what are the differences between them?
A: There are two types of e-textiles: embedded and laminated e-textiles. Embedded e-textiles have electrical parts woven into the fabric and are more of a textile product than a technological product. Laminated e-textiles, on the other hand, have their electrical circuits printed onto another type of material, which is then sewn onto the fabric.
Q: In what ways have e-textiles been a benefit to the healthcare industry?
A: The benefits of e-textiles in the hospital setting are said to be comfortable and improve a patient's quality of life, generate more freedom for the user, permit physicians the ability to monitor patients at all times, and decrease a patient's hospital stay.