Medical Imaging Goes Mobile: Wearable Skin Patch Can Scan a Person’s Insides for up to 48 Hours


The patch, which is the size of a postage stamp, can image blood vessels, the digestive system and internal organs for up to 48 hours. Photo: metamorworks/Getty Images

Longevity may be the most important trend we’ve ever experienced. It’s driven by — and in turn, it affects — everything from health to housing, money to technology, lifestyle to social policy. There’s so much to be aware of — and it’s just getting started! Now you can keep up with all the latest developments in this weekly column.


Here is the latest in what seems to be an irresistibly steady supply of news about the shifting of diagnostics from large, centralized institutions requiring heavy capital equipment, to the individual home. The hero, in all cases, is a wearable device that can monitor and transmit the data, in real time, to health-care providers and caregivers.

The latest exciting story is from The Guardian, reporting on a stick-on patch that can take an ultrasound scan. “The wearable patch, which is the size of a postage stamp, can image blood vessels, the digestive system and internal organs for up to 48 hours, giving doctors a more detailed picture of a patient’s health than the snapshots provided by routine scans.”

The patches have been tested in laboratory research, where scientists were able to “watch people’s hearts change shape during exercise, their stomachs expand and shrink as they drank and passed drinks, and their muscles pick up microdamage when weightlifting.”

Lead researcher professor Xuanhe Zhao of MIT, says the patches could “revolutionize” medical imaging because existing scans “are very brief, sometimes lasting only seconds, and usually have to be performed in hospitals.”

With the new wearable patch, he predicts, people could buy boxes of the patches at the drug store and link them to algorithms on their smart phones, “to monitor their heart, lungs and digestive systems for early signs of disease or infection, or their muscles during rehabilitation or physical training.”

How does it work? The patch features an array of tiny sensors that beam ultrasonic waves through the skin. The waves then bounce off blood vessels, tissues and internal organs. At the moment, there is no wireless continuation of the process — the patches have to be physically connected to an instrument that will convert the signals into images — but even this is simpler than requiring patients to lie motionless in large machines like MRI scanners. And the wireless version, which is where the real revolution will take place, is thought to be only a few years away.

I’ve written here before about “the virtual ward,” and how “the hospital of the future will be the home.” The implications are profound — costs down, accessibility up, timeliness of diagnostics up significantly — and stories like this one show that the research and applications are definitely continuing to move in that direction.

Expect a lot more on this topic!

David Cravit is a Vice-President at ZoomerMedia, and Chief Membership Officer of CARP. He is also the author of two books on the “reinvention” of aging. You can check out some of his other writing here.