Wearable technologies can help detect COVID-19 symptoms rather than traditional methods of diagnosis, research suggests. The new study from the US highlights the benefits of such devices when it comes to meeting health needs during a pandemic.
Researchers at Mount Sinai Hospital found that wearables such as the Apple Watch were able to identify cases of Covid-19 earlier than traditional diagnostic methods. The news may sound surprising, but the findings are based on a scientific study involving hundreds of participants, namely health workers recruited into the Mount Sinai Health System.
The research was conducted between April and September 2020, in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic. Each participant wore an Apple Watch and answered daily questions through a custom app. The researchers studied changes in participants’ heart rate variability (HRV) to identify and predict whether they were infected with or suffered from symptoms of Covid-19. They also collected other daily symptoms, such as fever or chills, fatigue or weakness, body pain, dry cough, sneezing, runny nose, diarrhea, sore throat, headache, shortness of breath, loss of smell or taste, and itchy eyes.
Technology at the service of health needs
Published in the Journal of Medical Internet Researchthe findings suggest that “subtle changes” in the participants’ HRV, as measured by the Apple Watch, could signal the onset of covid-19 well before diagnosis with traditional methods.
“This study sheds light on the future of digital health,” said the study’s corresponding author, Robert P. Hirten, MD. “It shows that we can use these technologies to better respond to evolving health needs, which will hopefully help us improve disease management. Our goal is to operationalize these platforms to improve the health of our patients and this study is an important step in that direction. Developing a way to identify people who may be sick before knowing they are infected would be a breakthrough in the management of Covid-19. “
The researchers also noted that the HRV pattern started to normalize between 7 and 14 days after the Covid-19 diagnosis and was no longer statistically different from the patterns of those who were not infected. They suggest that wearables can be used to monitor patients remotely and intervene as needed – a useful approach during periods of limited movement and social contact.
The next step for the study is to analyze biometric indicators such as HRV, sleep disturbance and physical activity to determine which health professionals are at risk for the psychological effects of the pandemic.
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