Early in the pandemic, I remember reading about how data gathered from digital thermometers was helping track the rate of new coronavirus infections. I was wondering if similar efforts were now being made to use wearable technology to monitor and predict the spread of the virus?
Dr. Prescott Prescribes
Scientists are currently conducting at least a half-dozen clinical studies to see whether smart watches and other wearable technology can offer early indicators of SARS-CoV-2 infection. While the studies have yet to yield any peer-reviewed results (articles published in scientific journals after scrutiny by other researchers), preliminary reports appear intriguing.
West Virginia University researchers announced last week that a data-collecting ring made by Oura, when partnered with an app that gathers other information, can predict up to three days in advance when people will develop fever, coughing or shortness of breath. The ring gauges body temperature, which gives it a leg up on most other smart devices.
Scientists at Stanford say their work with Fitbits has similarly allowed them to detect coronavirus in 11 of 14 patients at or before the time of confirmed diagnosis. This type of preliminary data offers the possibility that other biological data — here, small changes in people’s heart rates — might serve as a sort of canary in the coal mine. Still, this is an extremely small sample size, so researchers will need to do more work to verify these results.
With an illness that spreads robustly before people manifest any outward symptoms, these types of digital early-warning systems could prove crucial in stopping its spread. If enough people receive “red flags” from their devices and stay home rather than going to work or school, this could significantly slow viral spread.
Also, because we’re talking digital devices, scientists could look not just at individuals but at larger clusters of information as it’s gathered. Real-time aggregation of data could help public health authorities identify potential clusters of new cases — and take measures to stem them before they become full-blown outbreaks.
Until we see the full results of these studies, the jury remains out. But wearable technology could prove a potent weapon in controlling the virus.