Accuracy of Wearable Transdermal Alcohol Sensors: Systematic Review

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Background: There are a range of wearable transdermal alcohol sensors that are available and are being developed. These devices have the potential to monitor alcohol consumption continuously over extended periods in an objective manner, overcoming some of the limitations of other alcohol measurement methods (blood, breath, and urine). Objective: The objective of our systematic review was to assess wearable transdermal alcohol sensor accuracy. Methods: A systematic search of the CINAHL, Embase, Google Scholar, MEDLINE, PsycINFO, PubMed, and Scopus bibliographic databases was conducted in February 2021. In total, 2 team members (EB and SH) independently screened studies for inclusion, extracted data, and assessed the risk of bias. The methodological quality of each study was appraised using the Mixed Methods Appraisal Tool. The primary outcome was transdermal alcohol sensor accuracy. The data were presented as a narrative synthesis. Results: We identified and analyzed 32 studies. Study designs included laboratory, ambulatory, and mixed designs, as well as randomized controlled trials; the length of time for which the device was worn ranged from days to weeks; and the analyzed sample sizes ranged from 1 to 250. The results for transdermal alcohol concentration data from various transdermal alcohol sensors were generally found to positively correlate with breath alcohol concentration, blood alcohol concentration, and self-report (moderate to large correlations). However, there were some discrepancies between study reports; for example, WrisTAS sensitivity ranged from 24% to 85.6%, and specificity ranged from 67.5% to 92.94%. Higher malfunctions were reported with the BACtrack prototype (16%-38%) and WrisTAS (8%) than with SCRAM (2%); however, the former devices also reported a reduced time lag for peak transdermal alcohol concentration values when compared with SCRAM. It was also found that many companies were developing new models of wearable transdermal alcohol sensors. Conclusions: As shown, there is a lack of consistency in the studies on wearable transdermal alcohol sensor accuracy regarding study procedures and analyses of findings, thus making it difficult to draw direct comparisons between them. This needs to be considered in future research, and there needs to be an increase in studies directly comparing different transdermal alcohol sensors. There is also a lack of research investigating the accuracy of transdermal alcohol sensors as a tool for monitoring alcohol consumption in clinical populations and use over extended periods. Although there is some preliminary evidence suggesting the accuracy of these devices, this needs to be further investigated in clinical populations. Trial Registration: PROSPERO CRD42021231027;

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere35178
JournalJournal of Medical Internet Research
Issue number4
Early online date14 Apr 2022
Publication statusPublished - 14 Apr 2022


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