Health officials worldwide have been talking about using apps to trace cases of COVID-19 and slow or prevent potential exposures, but someday your smartwatch or Fitbit might be able to diagnose you with the disease itself.
Researchers are conducting studies on whether a wearable algorithm could be developed to track cases of coronavirus, or even to detect the disease in a wearer, USA Today reported this week.
At least half a dozen major studies are underway. Fitbit has announced its own COVID-19 study which will be conducted via a built-in Fitbit app. They’re seeking volunteers over age 21 who currently have, or have had, Covid-19 or flu-like symptoms. “This study will help determine whether Fitbit can help build an algorithm to detect COVID-19 before symptoms start,” the company said in a recent blog post.
At the Stanford Healthcare Innovations Lab, researchers are looking for volunteers to participate in a similar study, which they call a “crowdsourced effort to analyze and predict potential COVID-19 cases by donating your wearables data.” They’re looking for participants who own a wearable that measures heart rate — including Apple Watch, Fitbit, Empatica, Garmin, or Oura Ring — are over age 21 and have been diagnosed with COVID-19, had suspicious symptoms, or work a job that puts you at higher risk of exposure, such as in healthcare or a grocery store.
And the Scripps Research Translational Institute has launched DETECT (Digital Engagement & Tracking for Early Control & Treatment), a study that will examine whether heart rate data can be used to detect and track the spread of coronavirus. Volunteers will share health data from their wearables, including the Apple Watch, Fitbit and Garmin fitness trackers. It’s an outgrowth of an earlier study in which Scripps researchers tracked heart rate, sleep and activity data to see if it could predict flu outbreaks. The respected medical journal The Lancet called it an “encouraging proof of concept.”
“In light of the ongoing flu season and the global pandemic of COVID-19, we see enormous opportunity to improve disease tracking for improved population health,” said epidemiologist Jennifer Radin, the epidemiologist leading the DETECT study.
They’re not just shooting in the dark. On Thursday, researchers at the Rockefeller Neuroscience Institute said they’ve determined that data from the Oura Ring (a wearable that looks like a piece of jewelry) could predict when people will have a fever, coughing or shortness of breath—up to three days in advance. And on Friday, the Stanford researchers told the Washington Post that analyzing changes in heart rate from Fitbits allowed them to detect cases of coronavirus before or at time of diagnosis in 11 of 14 patients in their study.
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