Wearable devices detect COVID-19 symptoms before diagnosis

Wearable devices detect COVID-19 symptoms before diagnosis
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A new study has explored the use of wearable devices to detect symptoms of COVID-19 and predict a patient’s diagnosis.

Carried out by researchers at Mount Sinai, the Warrior Watch Study found that subtle changes in a participant’s heart rate variability (HRV) measured by an Apple Watch were able to signal the onset of COVID-19 up to seven days before the individual was diagnosed with the infection via nasal swab. The watch was also able to identify those who have symptoms.

According to the researchers, these wearable devices can identify COVID-19 cases earlier than traditional diagnostic methods and can help track and improve management of the disease.

The findings were published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research.

COVID-19 management

Hundreds of health care workers were enrolled in the study through the Mount Sinai Health System between April and September 2020. Participants wore Apple Watches and answered daily questions through a customised app.

Changes in their HRV, which is a measure of nervous system function detected by the wearable device, were used to identify and predict whether the workers were infected with COVID-19 or had symptoms, along with collecting other symptoms such as fever or chills, tiredness or weakness, body aches, dry cough, sneezing, runny nose, diarrhoea, sore throat, headache, shortness of breath, loss of smell or taste, and itchy eyes.

Additionally, the researchers found that seven to 14 days after diagnosis with COVID-19, the HRV pattern began to normalise and was no longer statistically different from the patterns of those who were not infected.

The study’s corresponding author Robert Hirten, MD, Assistant Professor of Medicine (Gastroenterology) at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, and member of the Hasso Plattner Institute for Digital Health at Mount Sinai and the Mount Sinai Clinical Intelligence Center (MSCIC), said: “This study highlights the future of digital health. It shows that we can use these technologies to better address evolving health needs, which will hopefully help us improve the management of disease. Our goal is to operationalise these platforms to improve the health of our patients and this study is a significant step in that direction.

“Developing a way to identify people who might be sick even before they know they are infected would be a breakthrough in the management of COVID-19.”

“This technology allows us not only to track and predict health outcomes, but also to intervene in a timely and remote manner, which is essential during a pandemic that requires people to stay apart,” says co-author Zahi Fayad, PhD, Director of the BioMedical Engineering and Imaging Institute, co-founder of the MSCIC, and the Lucy G. Moses Professor of Medical Imaging and Bioengineering at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.

Next, the study will take a closer look at biometrics including HRV, sleep disruption, and physical activity to better understand which healthcare workers are at risk of the psychological effects of the pandemic.


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