Smartwatches: what are they?
A smartwatch is a wearable device that can be used for a variety of purposes. It can be used to track fitness, monitor heart rate, and now, even predict the onset of COVID-19. The development of smartwatches has led to a new way for people to track their health, and it could now even help predict outbreaks of COVID-19 infections. These wearable devices track the user’s movement and heart rate, and if they are at risk, they send out an alert warning so the user can take precautions. In some cases, smartwatches have shown to be a life-saving tool.
This was the reasoning that led the Healthcare Innovation Lab at Stanford University School of Medicine to launch a study to investigate if the health information tracked by the smartwatch can be useful to detect early infection of COVID-19. Open to people of all genders between 18 and 80 years old with no pre-existing health condition, the study attempts to predict infections onset using artificial intelligence (AI). By downloading ‘MyPhD’ and enrolling in the study through a health survey, users have been notified by their wearable device when significant changes in their baseline occurred.
During the first phase of the study, the AI was able to detect in real-time 63% of COVID-19 positive cases. The second phase of the study has focused on training the AI to identify pre-symptomatic or asymptomatic cases to 78% of accuracy rates. Interestingly, the device has also been able to track symptoms and reactions to first and second doses of COVID-19 vaccines, providing interesting data. For instance, users vaccinated with the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine reported a higher resting heart-beat during the first night after the first dose. Likewise, over 60% of users who received a dose of the Moderna vaccine experienced fever after the second dose but none after the first dose, while users who were vaccinated with the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine reported fever after both doses.
A word of caution however: it must be remembered that smartwatches are not classified as medical devices but as fitness aids from the very production companies. Even though positive stories of users whose lives have improved by the devices increase, physicians are careful not to take into account the health data provided by the commercial devices, as their level of accuracy is still debated. In addition, smartwatches have proven to increase anxiety in some of the users over their health levels and fitness goals.
All considered, wearable devices could open the door to new ways to monitor and prevent the spread of COVID-19 outbreaks, but should not be taken as substitutes for regular testing, mask-wearing, and self-isolation when in contact with a positive case.
How many times have you checked your heartbeat on your device while reading this article?
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Collins, F., 2017. Built for the Future. Study Shows Wearable Devices Can Help Detect Illness Early. [online] NIH Director’s Blog. Available at: <https://directorsblog.nih.gov/2017/01/17/built-for-the-future-study-shows-wearable-devices-can-help-detect-illness-early/>.
Mishra, T., Wang, M., Metwally, A., Bogu, G., Brooks, A., Bahmani, A., Alavi, A., Celli, A., Higgs, E., Dagan-Rosenfeld, O., Fay, B., Kirkpatrick, S., Kellogg, R., Gibson, M., Wang, T., Hunting, E., Mamic, P., Ganz, A., Rolnik, B., Li, X. and Snyder, M., 2020. Pre-symptomatic detection of COVID-19 from smartwatch data. Nature Biomedical Engineering, 4(12), pp.1208-1220.
Stanford University, 2022. Stanford COVID-19 Wearables Project — Stanford Healthcare Innovation Lab. [online] Innovations.stanford.edu. Available at: <https://innovations.stanford.edu/wearables>.