Health and fitness have become an increasingly important focus for tech companies of late and with good measure. According to the International Data Corporation, the global shipments of wearables were expected to total 396 million units in 2020. But off late, fitness trackers have been seeing another use this past year – research for the early detection of COVID-19. Readers, we urge you not to consider this article as medical advice and reach out to your medical provider in case you are feeling unwell or have questions about your health.
Fitbit announced today that NASA is providing 1000 of their employees performing mission-critical work across the country with Fitbit charge 4 devices. The recipients of these devices include 150 astronauts who are critical to future space missions and to reduce the possibility of infectious diseases before their flights. The goal of this program is to curb the spread of COVID-19 and make sure there is a low risk of infections among their mission-critical staff.
How does a Fitbit help you may ask? Apart from tracking the number of steps you take in a day, these trackers also measure your heart rate, body temperature, and other metrics. According to a research article on nature.com, there is evidence that respiration rates, heart rate, and heart rate variability can provide early signs of illness, including COVID-19, long before wearers start showing symptoms or get tested. While daily monitoring of health metrics for a large population was impossible before, many people now have smart wearable devices that can measure and track these variables. NASA has also provided access to a daily check-in app where employees log potential symptoms along with their Fitbit readings, and this collected data is used to advise people to go into work, stay at home, or get tested for COVID-19.
While Fitbit has been the go-to for NASA, the other market leader for smartwatches, Apple, has not been behind with its Apple Watch. In a recently accepted article at the peer-reviewed Journal of Medical Internet Research, heart rate variability (HRV) changes have been associated with and observed before clinical identification of COVID-19 infection.
Several hundred medical workers at the Mount Sinai hospital system participated in an experiment, dubbed the Warrior Watch study, using an Apple Watch and iPhone app to collect their health data and answer a daily survey about potential symptoms and stress. From April to September of 2020, when NYC was constantly seeing high rates of infection spreading, researchers monitored the HRV which is said to be a key indicator of strain on the nervous system. As a part of the Warrior Watch study, researchers were able to identify COVID-19 diagnosis’ up to a week before it could be detected using nasal PCR swabs.
While these studies have been peer-reviewed and accepted in journals, further studies continue to identify the links of sleep patterns, physical activity, and blood oxygen to detect both influenza and COVID-19. Independent studies have also shown that Apple Watches may be able to detect early signs of diabetes and atrial fibrillation, but that’s a post for another day! For now, we pray that you are keeping safe and we see large scale rollouts of this technology to keep everyone around us safe!
Fount of wisdom, insufferable know it all, make it go away are just some of the phrases used to define Melwyn. When he is not at his Consulting job, he spends his time reading about technology and current affairs.