Smartwatch users can help study figure out if tech can predict Covid-19

  • A Stanford study is looking for tech users who have had interaction with Covid-19.
  • The massive study aims to create a baseline to detect coronavirus infection before symptoms appear.
  • It could help develop an app that will alert users for early quarantine.

Our Fitbits, Garmin and Apple watches can track almost anything regarding our health (although there's been some debate over how accurate they are), but could they potentially track the coronavirus that's causing havoc all over the world?

Researchers at Stanford Medicine's Healthcare Innovation Lab want to find out, and are looking for tech users to participate in a global study. 

"With limited test kits and slow results turnaround, we are trying to find out if information from wearable devices can help detect Covid-19 before symptoms emerge," it says on their study website.

If they are able to set up a baseline of biodata for what the onset of Covid-19 looks like, it could help people quarantine faster and curb the spread of infection, especially when it comes to asymptomatic patients.

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

Study requirements

They are on the hunt for people who use this technology and have had some interaction with the virus:

  • People who have had confirmed or suspected Covid-19;
  • Have been exposed to somebody who has known a suspected Covid-19 sufferer;
  • Are at higher risk of exposure (like healthcare workers or grocery store workers).

If you fall into any of these categories and would like to help the researchers set up their baseline, you can enrol on their website, after which they will send a link to an app you can download on your phone.

You'll have to link your device to the app so that they can monitor your data, and you'll have to routinely answer a few simple questions to help them set up their diagnostics. 

The devices that are compatible are Fitbits, Oura rings and Garmin, Samsung and Apple watches, or anything else that measures heart rate.

READ MORE | Clocking 10 000 steps daily alone will not prevent weight gain 

Are wearable devices accurate enough?

Stanford Medicine has already released some of their results on the effectiveness of wearable biotech in predicting Covid-19 onset.

In a small preprint study that still needs to be peer reviewed, 31 smartwatch users who were infected with Covid-19 had their data analysed for any signs that could show the onset of the infection.

In 80% of the cases, the data showed alterations in heart rate, steps and sleep, before or as the patients started experiencing symptoms. In some of the cases, these alterations were detected nine or more days before symptoms started. 

Through this preliminary study, they managed to develop a diagnostic model for prediction, which they now need to upscale.

READ | Welcome to the 'smart toilet' that can spot disease 

Data security

The study follows Stanford's gold standard of data privacy and security and approved by the university's chief security and privacy officers.

The university will also be storing the data on their secure servers, where only the study team will have access to the information collected.

You also have the right to withdraw at any point in the study, having the option for them to keep your data or remove all identifying data from their database. 

The data they will collect include:

  • Step count;
  • Body movement;
  • Electrical changes in the skin related to stress (galvanic skin response [GSR]);
  • Skin temperature;
  • Your location (global positioning system [GPS]),
  • The amount of oxygen in your blood;
  • Your blood pressure;
  • The quality of your sleep;
  • Medical record information, if agreed.

Any identifying markers, like name, date of birth and address will be removed once the data become publicly available for other researchers.

READ | Smartphone apps might track and slow spread of coronavirus

Valuable contribution

All of this would help create an app that could alert wearable tech users that they may have been infected by the virus, even before they experience symptoms.

"Your data directly contribute to validating our early infection warning system. This could support a safer reopening of the economy, since it would allow people to self-isolate as opposed to unwittingly spreading the disease when they are pre-symptomatic or asymptomatic."

They are also looking for developers, data scientists, and designers to help quickly scale up the app and its functionality.

Eventually, they will also be expanding their study requirements to include people who haven't been sick in the past six months or have been sick with other diseases like the common cold or flu as a control group against the Covid-19 cohort.

READ MORE | An app that determines the severity of Covid-19 may soon be available

Image credit: Pixabay

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