Seemingly pulled from a pulp sci-fi novel, researchers in South Korea recently developed an electronic ‘smart’ bandage that can detect tremors, store data, and deliver drugs through the skin. Measuring thinner than a single sheet of paper, the prototype features tiny sensors that can record subtle body movements, such as muscle tremors. The embedded sensors can also be activated wirelessly to heat the drugs stored inside the patch, releasing them into the skin.

While the medical wearable has only been tested on pig skin, MC10, a startup based in Cambridge, MA, is aiming to commercialize the prototype. The company is working with researchers to develop sensors that could also measure sweat and other important vital signs, including oxygen levels in the blood, which may be useful to doctors and other health professionals. Lead researcher Dae-Hyeong Kim from the Center for Nanoparticle Research who worked on the prototype, stated that the electronic skin patch could one day lead to the creation of medical devices “that can be worn like a child’s temporary tattoo.”

What We’ve Seen

According to Mintel’s First Aid US 2013 report, US retail sales of first aid products reached $3.1 billion in 2013, with sales projected to grow to $3.5 billion by 2018. Older consumers are more likely than younger consumers to own first aid products, such as bandages, thermometers, muscle support devices, and first aid kits. The elderly population is growing at a faster rate than the overall population, with the 65-74 and 75+ age segments expected to grow by 21% and 12%, respectively, between 2013-2018. In contrast, the growth rate for the total US population is expected to increase by 4% during the same time period.

Wearable technology is gaining traction among consumers as advancements in technology offer smaller, sleeker gadgets, which can track anything from sleep patterns to the number of calories burned. These wearables are helping consumers take better control of their lives, which includes being able to monitor and improve their health.

What It Means

While the ‘smart’ bandage may currently only be a prototype, it has the potential to become a common household item—perhaps, just as common as keeping a first aid kit full of bandages, antiseptics, and thermometer. In fact, with rapid advancements in technology, this may happen sooner than we think and could even translate into companies creating first aid products that double as medical wearables. Similar to the electronic skin patch, future first aid offerings may implement wearable technology that can dispense antiseptics or topical treatments electronically.

The aging population will continue to be a driver for growth in the first aid market. Coupled with advancements in technology and a growing popularity for wearable devices, companies may want to explore implementing technology for first aid products, which can address needs that go beyond simply treating wounds and injuries. This may include offering features that can monitor vital signs, dispense drugs, or even provide joint support.

Hannah Pae joined Mintel as an analyst in 2013 and works with clients to determine the intersection between quantitative data and sociology to decipher consumer behavior.