Research is expanding into whether wearable devices such as an Apple Watch or Fitbit could track a person with coronavirus or the flu, or perhaps detect and even predict the onset of disease in a wearer. The potential for such data-driven advances could be reassuring as the nation reopens after the shutdown to prevent the spread of the virus, which causes the COVID-19 disease. More than 1 in 5 Americans (21%) already wear some type of smartwatch or fitness tracker, according to Pew Research Center. Fitbit has announced its own Fitbit COVID-19 Study to "help determine whether Fitbit can help build an algorithm to detect COVID-19 before symptoms start," the company says in a recent blog post. It is seeking participants who are 21 or older and have had or currently have COVID-19 or flu-related symptoms.
Stanford University is hoping to turn wearables like the Apple Watch and Fitbit's health-tracking bands into the latest weapon in the fight against coronavirus. The Stanford Medicine's Healthcare Innovation Lab launched the Coronavirus Wearables Study earlier this year to research whether wearables can be used to detect if someone has COVID-19 before they start showing any symptoms (if they ever do). The study, which is currently recruiting for participants, will ask users to give data from their wearables -- such as heart rate, skin temperature, and blood oxygen saturation -- through an app created by Stanford's bioinformatics team. Would-be participants will also need to fill in a symptom checklist regularly and can optionally also share details from their medical records. Anyone looking to take part will either need to have been diagnosed with COVID-19 or be at high risk of contracting it -- for example, grocery store or healthcare workers, or anyone who's been on a cruise recently.
The project lead says that future troops may be deployed with watches or chest straps that could predict when they will get sick and how long it would take to recover. When U.S. Service members get ill at the last minute, it could cause serious consequences in regards to executing critical duties. To get ahead of the issues, the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA), leading health technology company Royal Phillips and the Defense Innovation Unit (DIU), launched a project to develop a technology that could predict whether a service member is getting sick 48 hours in advance. The project was launched 18 months ago and announced its completion on Oct 22. "By coupling large-scale data, with our experience in AI and remote patient monitoring with DTRA's drive for innovation, we were able to develop a highly predictive early-warning algorithm based on non-invasively collected biomarkers," Joe Frassica, chief medical officer and head of research for Philips North America, said in the release. Using 165 distinct biomarkers across 41,000 cases, the Phillips team created the Rapid Analysis of Threat Exposure (RATE) algorithm which is the "first large-scale empirical exploration of prediction of pre-symptomatic infection in humans."
As the coronavirus still looms over the US, everyone is looking to technology for help with keeping the pandemic at bay – even the Navy. The Naval COVID Rapid Response Team plans to implement a proximity tracking program to determine how effective social distancing policies are at limiting the spread of the virus. The group is exploring options for a wearable that stores records of users within six feet of each other and is capable of identifying 100 different devices in close proximity under one minute. The military group is currently taking submissions for existing commercial or advanced prototype technologies for the program, but notes devices cannot store personal information or have WiFi and GPS, as the services can be a security threat. The US Navy has been hit the hardest among the military branches, due to a number of soldiers living closely on battle ships.
While digital health doesn't have as big of a presence at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas as other industries, there were a fair number of wearables, apps and sensor-enabled tools showcased. There were also several partnerships announced, which you can read about here. Some have already been covered in MobiHealthNews yet didn't make their official debuts til this week, but most were new announcements to the world. Here is a list of 31 digital health tools we've rounded up from CES. Fitness gear company Polar, which has historically been known for its heartrate-monitoring watches and chest straps, unveiled its new product: a smart clothing item called the Polar Team Pro Shirt. The sleeveless base layer shirt is embedded with heart rate-monitoring sensors that contact the wearer's skin, eliminating the need for a chest strap or wristworn band.