Thin-Film Conformal Coating for Medical Wearables: Their Health is in Your Hands

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Mallory McGuinness | October 13, 2020

Why Protecting Medical Wearables is Important

The medical device market is currently sized at $456.9 billion, including medical wearables. These devices transmit and collect essential data in various harsh environments and offer accurate data; they must remain reliable. Thin-film solutions and nanocoatings can offer the protection needed to keep wearables functional and operational in a dependable way.

If you are a medical device manufacturer (MDM), be it a designer or engineer, you know that medical wearables matter. As patients, providers, and healthcare professionals see the benefits of these connected, autonomous devices that support and monitor healthcare data, usage of wearable technology has more than tripled in the last four years. As consumers clamor to engage with their health data, 80% are now willing to wear one.

Medical wearables include biosensors, wearable blood pressure monitors, wearable ECG monitors, and continuous glucose monitors. Connected medical wearables transmit data such as blood pressure, ECG, respiration rate, heart rate, blood oxygen saturation, skin perspiration, blood glucose, motion evaluation, and body temperature.

These innovative medical devices culminate in advanced software design and miniaturized complex components such as: gyroscopes, accelerometers, motion trackers, barometric altimeters, compasses, optical heart rate monitors, galvanic skin response and skin temperature sensors, GPS components, and various LED sensors.

Read our post on how Parylene for Medical Devices Is a Healthy Choice.

Healthcare practitioners can use all of this medical data from wearables to make better-informed decisions and encourage patients to foster healthier behavior. According to one study, medical wearables’ use resulted in an 89% reduction of preventable cardiac or respiratory arrest. Healthier behavior also leads to increased health insurance cost savings, with 42% of providers reporting extensive medical cost savings due to solutions such as medical wearables.

Why Wearable Tech is Vunerable

Because these components go where consumers go, the sensitive circuitry inside medical wearable devices is bound to encounter two harsh environments – the human body and the operating environment. The smart devices will face exposure to bodily fluids such as blood, sweat, and tears, and environmental hazards such as humidity, ionized water, temperature extremes, and a never-ending list of contaminants and corrosives.

All it takes is a single point of failure – one corroded component – and the entire system can be thrown off, leading to liability, repairs, loss of data, recalls, and reputation loss. In the first quarter of 2019, there were 135 million medical devices recalled, an alarming statistic. In that quarter, 31% of the recalls were due to a quality issue. Poorly protected devices are just one of many contributing factors that lead to this number. In fact, the FDA has singled out design and reliability engineering as one of the seven opportunities for improving quality within the medical device industry.

a waterproof smart watch

Traditionally MDMs have used gaskets and seals to protect medical wearables from the harshest of environments. These devices form hermetic seals to keep corrosives and contaminants out. Unfortunately, they can become dislodged in a variety of scenarios. Additionally, corrosives, contaminants, and particles can still make their way in through the seal, becoming trapped inside. When this happens, these environmental hazards break down the components until they fail.

Why Thin Film Coatings are Perfect for Wearable Technology

HZO thin-film solutions such as Parylene and nanocoatings are a superior alternative to seals and traditional conformal coatings. They are applied using highly-repeatable processes, chemical vapor deposition (CVD), and plasma-enhanced chemical vapor deposition (PECVD). The coatings are applied to the substrate, protecting wearable medical components from the inside out. The deposition methods provide 3D coverage that conforms to the most complex miniaturized unit. Consistently covered at the micron level, or in the case of PECVD, the nanoscale, our thin-film materials penetrate deeply into crevices, adding minimal bulk or weight.

Parylene is biologically stable, chemically inert, and is FDA approved. When coupled with Parylene’s comfort, resilience across multiple sterilization processes, and resistance to flaking, Parylene is a healthy choice for medical wearable protection.

Meanwhile, nanocoatings can be functionalized for beneficial properties, such as hydrophobicity (water-repellant), and engineered to ensure that the protection will maintain through exposure to anything mother nature or a consumer can throw at it. Over the long-term, nanocoatings and Parylene can help prevent premature medical wearable device failure.

If you strive to provide a reliable medical wearable that can leave the lab’s confines and work in real life, contact our team for a consultation.

All it takes is a single point of failure – one corroded component – and the entire system can be thrown off, leading to liability, repairs, loss of data, recalls, and reputation loss.

Mallory McGuinness

Mallory is an electronics protection evangelist who writes content for HZO. In her free time she is reading non-fiction, and hanging out with her beta fish, King Awesome.

Ryan Moore

Ryan is a 9-year veteran to the world of protecting electronics from harsh environments and a lover of all things technology.

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