Wearable patch market holds promise, but challenges must be addressed

While wearable patch technology is a still-growing mHealth market, its future bodes bright as a worthwhile investment for providers and as a valuable consumer tool. However, currently there are challenges to the devices that need to be addressed, according to a recent Tractica report.

Connected wearable patches range from tattoos to small devices affixed to the skin, as defined by Tractica  The patches feature wireless connectivity for monitoring physiological data, delivering medication and more.

Tractica forecasts worldwide unit shipments will hit 12.3 million annually by 2020, a big jump from the 67,000 shipped in 2014. The market is expected to increase to $3.3 billion annually, states the research.

Yet there are challenges to such growth that remain.

"Technology is being developed but there are still limitations here, in terms of battery life, length of time a patch can be worn, etc," Tractica principal analyst Charul Vyas told FierceMobileHealthcare in an email interview. "There is also the need for the data to be analyzed and tracked in a useful manner, and for certain use cases, integrated into electronic health records."

The top factor for delivering on all the projected promises is valuable return on investment (ROI), Vyas says. He notes that vendors are already striving to show how patches and sensors can save money, slice healthcare costs and help identify patient medical issues before they become critical healthcare concerns.

The wearable patch arrives as the initial wearable tech, such as today's fitness tracker and Apple Watch, becomes more popular among consumers. One report projects 2015 will be the "breakthrough" year for revenue and consumer adoption of fitness and mHealth wearables.

Vyas says there are other key challenges for wearable patches and sensors, which include reliability and accuracy; acceptance by the medical community and consumers/patients; and pricing.

"For some applications, wearable sensors being designed now may be used/incorporated into the general consumer wearables space," Vyas says. For example, a smartwatch maker whose device tracks heart rate and exercise activities may look to incorporate features such as tracking body temperature and other biometrics. A recent example is Fujitsu's wearable sensor tag that can be worn on a wrist or attached to a walker, monitoring activity and body signs such as a stumble or temperature.

The melding of wearables and patch technology will likely spur mergers and acquisitions as the markets mature, the report adds. "[W]e will likely see some convergence in this space, particularly for health and wellness use cases," according to Vyas.

The next few years will be ones of product trials, testing and pilots on the road to mass adoption, he adds.

 For more information:
- download the Tractica report summary
- read the announcement