Digital Salutem
24 July 2021

Can A Smartwatch Detect COVID-19 Infection? Let’s explore!

By João Bocas
pexels pixabay 267394

Stanford University Biologist Michael Snyder started feeling uneasy during his flight to Norway.

He realized that his blood oxygen level was too low from the various fitness trackers he happened to wear at that time. 5 years ago, this incident indicated the significance of wearable devices in this smart era.

The innovation took place years before, and digital experts are still working on the progress. In earlier days, only a few people used to wear smartwatches to monitor their health conditions. As per Michael Snyder, it is easier to detect infections and diseases from the skin temperature and heart rate. All in all, you’d be surprised to know that a smartwatch can also detect COVID-19 infections easily.

Your Smartwatch Will Warn You

The deadly COVID-19 virus SARS-CoV-2 has affected and killed more than 100 million people. Fueling the outbreak, affected people are carrying the virus and spreading it to people in close contact. This happens badly when COVID-positive patients are unaware of their infection and encourage virus transmission through physical interaction. However, if patients get an automatic innovative testing kit, they’d not step outside after tested positive. The more you test the disease, the less the outbreak. In the end, Michael Snyder recommends using wearable devices, fitness trackers, or smartwatches to monitor your health before it’s too late.

Tracking Your Health Becomes Easy

At Scripps Research Translational Institute, Giorgio Quer, the director of Artificial Intelligence, has stated wearable devices as one of the best potentials to fight COVID-19 infections. His team conducted a study of 30,000 users who shared healthcare data, and then they published a report in Nature Medicine. The research work mainly focused on smartdevice users who were symptomatic and tested positive at least once.

It becomes essential for the wearables to maintain accuracy while measuring the infection. False reports can cause unwanted hazards for the users. Keeping this factor in mind, the developers have introduced a common accuracy matric named AUG. High AUG results in accurate information for the wearer.

However, researchers were confused about whether the wearable information (heart rate, sleeping hours, number of steps) would make any changes to the self-reported symptoms. But thankfully, it worked. When implemented with a hand-coded algorithm or daily sensor data, the AUG outcome ranges from 0.71-0.72. But when you add sensors to the symptoms, the AUG becomes 0.8. Giorgio Quer finds this exciting and a noticeable improvement in the field of wearables technologies.

How Do The Researchers Link COVID-19 To Wearables?

Michael Snyder and his team decided to publish a paper in Nature Biomedical Engineering explaining their research work based on the study of 5000 individuals. It was different from the Scripps study as the members zoomed in on the symptoms and changes every hour. They collected data based on three major factors.

  • A high resting heart rate.
  • A high ratio of resting heart rate.
  • Increasing sleeping habits.

The fact is that 32 symptomatic participants wearing wearables received positive signals even before COVID-19 symptoms appeared. Unfortunately, it is retrospective like Scripps and limitations are there. The issue is that this system monitor data only before and after the prediction point. Sadly this won’t be a great help if you want to detect infections as it appears. Eventually, the goal is to implement a prospective system that catches the disease in real-time. Not surprisingly, this process will help the users to understand whether to self-isolet seek COVID-19 testing.

Alarming Signs Are There

Snyder’s researchers also evaluate this procedure in prospective mode. They tried to determine if the system can detect the illness even if there are no reported symptoms. However, keeping these points in mind, the team has focussed on wearable devices with a two-alarm system. There are signs of COVID-19 infections, the signal will cross a certain threshold, and a Yellow Alarm will occur. On the other hand, if the symptoms remain or elevate for over 12 hours, it will produce a red alarm. The troublesome point is that frequent false alarms can cause the users to ignore the warnings. And in that case, there won’t be any use of the purpose if the alarm goes off before the symptoms arrive. Scripps is also developing an alert device, and these wearables don’t require FDA approval as the process doesn’t diagnose the disease. The device will monitor your elevated heart rate, which signify respiratory virus and COVID-19 infections. According to Michael Snyder, the smartwatches resembles a thermometer that informs you as your skin temperature elevates.

Small Issues May Prevent A Successful Outcome

Uncertainty of the signals make it challenging for the alarming systems to establish a crisp baseline, and this could become a problem. For example, some users may live on certain medications that can dominate the data by affecting the heart rate. On the other hand, some people may have breathing issues due to asthma and not COVID but the system may producethe alarm. Apart from that, long flight journeys, office stress, or alcohol influence can trigger the alarming system other than significant infections we’re talking about.

However, researchers at Purdue University are working in collaboration with physIQ, a health tech company, to enhance wearable signals. Keeping an eye on the COVID-29 infections, the users will wear an electrocardiogram patch on their chest along with a Samsung smartwatch for 5 days long. It is to mention that the patch is more accurate than the smartwatches when it comes to data collection. The goal is to enhance the signaling system for wearable devices to detect COVID infections, says Stephan Wegerich, the chief science officer of physIQ.

The Users Should Learn To Utilize The Devices

The users are also responsible to wear the smartwatches snugly to enhance the signals. Apart from that, they are required to charge the wearables twice a day as it collects raw data at a high frequency, unlike factory settings. To monitor and reduce the false results, Fitbit has conducted its own study and published research work in Digital Medicine. As the setting is adjustable, the devices can detect nearly 15% of positive cases and 5% of false cases. The wearables detect the infection before the symptoms appear which is not great but better than nothing.

In the end, Michael Snyder added that gaining knowledge about COVID-19 detection may benefit in the future while fighting against pandemics like seasonal flue or other areas of human healthcare.

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