PICS | This throat patch could help monitor early Covid-19 symptoms

  • Wearable tech is evolving fast during the Covid-19 pandemic.
  • A rubber patch placed on the throat was designed to detect early symptoms of the coronavirus.
  • It contains sensors and data processors that can detect spikes and changes in patients.

If there's one thing we know about the coronavirus, it's that it is incredibly unpredictable. Every patient seems to react differently to Covid-19, with symptoms and treatments changing all the time.    

One way doctors can get ahead of symptoms and complications is by means of wearable biosensors that continuously monitor patients without the need for bulky machines, alerting medical staff when there are sudden changes in patients. 

These handy gadgets can monitor temperatures, heart rates, calories and even insulin levels, but a common problem is the cost of production. There's also a debate on whether commercially available devices like Fitbits and Apple watches can be used in a medical setting, or whether they need to be of a clinical-grade quality.

READ | High-tech rings are tracking Covid-19 'warning signs'

Repurposing older tech

One group of scientists from Northwestern University's Querrey Simpson Institute for Bioelectronics – headed by physical chemist John Rogers – has, however, started developing a cheaper, wearable and flexible monitoring device specifically designed for Covid-19 patients to help alleviate the strain on resources. 

rubber patch getting twisted

(Photo: Northwestern University)

According to Smithsonian Magazine, they already had the tech on hand – a rubber patch with biosensors, wireless transmitters and data-processing power – to rehabilitate stroke patients. It's easily rigged to detect respiratory issues associated with Covid-19 by applying it to a patient's throat.

This is a far better spot than other part of the body. Being on the throat, it will be able to pick up important biodata, such as blood flow, coughing and irregular breathing. 

READ MORE | High-tech 'exoskeleton' can give mobility back to people with MS 

rubber patch on throat

(Photo: Northwestern University)

Earlier detection of Covid-19 

The scientists also added temperature sensors and pulse oximeters to measure oxygen in the blood. It's been proven that Covid-19 has a severe impact on oxygen levels and these levels provide an important alert for severe complications in patients.

It can also help doctors and nurses spot Covid-19 patients earlier once admitted, preventing large-scale spread in hospitals. 

These devices are being trialled at a Chicago hospital, where they function continuously and automatically without the need for complicated machinery or software.

The data is collected and uploaded through an iPad and sent to a friendly user interface where doctors can look out for any spikes or changes in the patient's condition.

Results so far

So far, the pilot test has already compiled more than 3 000 hours of data, which scientists are analysing to better understand the different stages of Covid-19 and improve early detection. They are also trying to improve the algorithm so that the device can better differentiate between symptoms caused by Covid-19 and other diseases. 

Eventually, the scientists want to make this commercially available to the public and underresourced medical institutions.

But this isn't the first device to monitor for Covid-19 symptoms. Around 12 000 healthcare workers are wearing Oura rings in the US to monitor temperature, breathing and heart activity. 

Similar to the patch, this data will also hopefully create a guide for detecting Covid-19 even before the onset of symptoms.

READ | High-tech pacifier might monitor baby's blood sugar 

biomedical patch in sterilised jar

The patch being sterilised. (Photo: Northwestern University)

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