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Smartwatches may be able to help diagnose Covid-19, research finds

Smartwatch health-sensors are getting more powerful. (Source: Apple)
Smartwatch health-sensors are getting more powerful. (Source: Apple)
Can smartwatches help to diagnose cases of Covid-19? According to a couple of new studies, they can. The research applies to the Apple Watch and other wearables associated with heart-rate monitoring, as they might record the variations in this metric that might indicate the presence of the virus, even in asymptomatic patients.

Earlier, a study in The Lancet indicated that Fitbit health-tracking data was effective enough to detect cases of influenza. Given the partial overlap of symptoms between that condition and those of Covid-19, it was probably a matter of time until at least one group of researchers applied these findings to the potential role of wearables in the diagnosis of this condition.

Two such projects have resulted in November 2020 papers, available in medRxiv (pre-publication) and Nature Biomedical Engineering. The former, conducted at Mount Sinai hospital, focused on the ability of Apple Watches (series 4 or newer) worn by a number of healthcare-worker volunteers and connected to iPhones (of the 6- to 12-series).

The study collected data on heart-rate variability (HRV), a metric previously associated with the development of Covid-19, in these subjects. It concluded that the variable could be used to predict the development of Covid-19 prior to diagnosis by PCR.

The second study, conducted by researchers at the Department of Genetics, Stanford and the Center for RNA Science and Therapeutics, Case Western University, Cleveland, resulted in conclusions that smartwatch health-tracking data (including HRV, sleep duration and activity) could have been used to diagnose Covid-19 in 63% of its subjects.

Therefore, it seems up-to-date fitness-focused wearables can be used to detect cases of this illness prior to lab-based diagnosis. In addition, some newer bands feature yet more relevant sensors or abilities such as body-temperature sensing.

On the other hand, the research that suggests this is still relatively preliminary and could do with bigger sample sizes, and we are still far from a consumer product that is approved for use as an actual clinical device.

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> Expert Reviews and News on Laptops, Smartphones and Tech Innovations > News > News Archive > Newsarchive 2021 01 > Smartwatches may be able to help diagnose Covid-19, research finds
Deirdre O'Donnell, 2021-01-17 (Update: 2021-01-17)