Though technology advances every day, smart clothing still seems like it belongs in the world of science fiction. Nevertheless, smart clothes are beginning to be used in a range of fields for a number of purposes.

How do smart clothes work?

Smart clothes are formed of e-textile; cloth manufactured with wire woven into the fabric, or micro-circuits printed onto the fabric. The circuits and integrated sensors provide data feedback on whatever information is gathered by the sensors. In a MedTech healthcare application, this method of gathering data can revolutionise treatment, as well as the patient’s experience.

How can smart clothes be used in healthcare?

Smart clothes and even wearables could have multiple healthcare applications both inside a hospital and out. In the hospital, patients’ conditions could be monitored in a less invasive manner, without the need for so many wires and external monitors. Outside of hospital, those with chronic health problems could manage their conditions more effectively.

Heart monitors can be integrated into the fabric of bras or t-shirts to provide information. Sensors can be used to monitor skin temperature and perspiration levels as well as muscle performance and other functions.

In addition to the monitoring of regular vital signs to build up analytical patterns, smart clothing could be used to monitor a patient’s muscle tone, movement, and likeliness of developing conditions like pressure sores and oedema, particularly in bed-bound patients.

What barriers currently stand in the way of development?

Until recently, the whole field of e-textiles has been relatively undeveloped and has not yet had any great commercial success. Specific research into the healthcare potential of smart clothes has also suffered from a lack of research investment.

Investors are increasingly interested in the ways that smart fabrics can be utilised in the medical world. However, the situation is not without difficulties. Once developed, the fabrics will require stringent testing in order to gain regulatory approval to certify their reliability and suitability for use in medical situations.

Smart clothing is still an area of developing technology. Nevertheless, it is developing rapidly and will continue to do so. It is not an exaggeration to say that smart clothing, amongst advancements in prosthetics and biotechnology, will likely be the future of healthcare, and will provide multiple benefits in the coming years.

Photo: Pulse oximeter by quinn.anya licensed under Creative Commons 4.0