Health & Wellbeing

Fitness tracker and smartwatch data used to predict COVID-19 cases

Fitness tracker and smartwatch...
An ongoing research project to detect COVID-19 cases is looking to recruit 100,000 subjects to improve the accuracy of its predictive model
An ongoing research project to detect COVID-19 cases is looking to recruit 100,000 subjects to improve the accuracy of its predictive model
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An ongoing research project to detect COVID-19 cases is looking to recruit 100,000 subjects to improve the accuracy of its predictive model
An ongoing research project to detect COVID-19 cases is looking to recruit 100,000 subjects to improve the accuracy of its predictive model

A preliminary study, from a large and ongoing research project, is suggesting measurements from fitness tracker wearables and smartwatches, alongside self-reported symptom data, can effectively detect cases of COVID-19. The goal of the project is to develop a real-time tracking system that can help identify and contain viral outbreaks at their earliest point.

“One of the greatest challenges in stopping COVID-19 from spreading is the ability to quickly identify, trace and isolate infected individuals,” explains Giorgio Quer, first author on the new study. “Early identification of those who are pre-symptomatic or even asymptomatic would be especially valuable, as people may potentially be even more infectious during this period. That’s the ultimate goal.”

Researchers from Scripps Research Translational Institute have previously demonstrated how influenza outbreaks can be tracked using wearable fitness devices such as a Fitbit. Early in 2020 the researchers launched a new study called DETECT (Digital Engagement and Tracking for Early Control & Treatment), which called for the general public to sign up to a research app that collects fitness tracker data and logs self-reported symptoms. By June over 30,000 subjects had signed on to the project.

A newly published study in the journal Nature Medicine is reporting the first results from DETECT, revealing fitness wearable data, along with self-reporting of symptoms, can detect cases of COVID-19 with around 80-percent accuracy. This predictive rate is significantly higher than models based on self-reported symptoms alone.

“This is really an exciting result,” says Eric Topol, Director of Scripps Research. “It shows that passive, continuous monitoring, with devices like Fitbit and the Apple Watch might turn out to be an important public health surveillance tool for COVID-19. Especially in a time when we don’t have enough tests or at enough frequency with enough turnaround of results, this might be a way to identify and isolate the individuals who are infected.”

Heart rate, sleep, and activity data were the key wearable measurements that proved most helpful in detecting COVID-19 cases. While everyone’s individual baseline measurements were slightly different, by evaluating deviations from normal measurements over time the researchers were able to effectively detect cases of COVID-19.

The predictive model being developed through the DETECT study still needs more work before it can be deployed in the real-world so Jennifer Radin, a Scripps epidemiologist leading the study, is calling for citizen scientists to download the free app and anonymously offer their wearable data to help accelerate the research project.

“We’re just getting started with DETECT,” says Radin. “We have so much more research to do and that’s going to require many more participants. I’d love for us to have 100,000 or more people. That would give us the data we need to take this to the next level.”

If you are interested in helping out with the project, more information can be found at Detect Heath Study.

The new study was published in the journal Nature Medicine.

Source: Scripps Research

"Fitbit and the Apple Watch might turn out to be ... surveillance tool"! Aren't you just a little alarmed about that?
I say that the first top priority real challenge is to make people follow the rules of isolation, masking and reporting... to get down to earth and accept that this s**t will not go away if *you* don't change.
Rich - great synopsis. It was an interesting article to read (the DETECT health study), and your synopsis does it justice. Suffice it to say that every person should watch their symptoms and lack thereof year-round! How many people are sick for a day or two before they call to make an appointment with their primary care physician or stop at a private health clinic? I have diagnosed progressing heart attacks under those circumstances, and we all know the saying that 'denial is the first symptom' of a severe illness.

I find that it takes more time to tease out the progression of an illness than I have time to devote to a patient in the office. But on subsequent visits I find that my hunches are right just from looking at their records and the changes as charted before I actually lay eyes on them to diagnose the issue in the first place. I have a record of RHR (resting heart rate) and a baseline (or white coat syndrome) blood pressure and respiratory rate. Certainly when someone comes in complaining of ankle pain and needs an orthopedic consult, I don't ignore the basics of internal medicine! But you don't need to be a physician to recognize when simple tasks that never winded you before are causing you shortness of breath. Or if you feel your heart racing and you are just up out of bed. If everyone paid attention to their bodies and knew their 'baselines', not only would my job be easier as I'd just be confirming what a patient might be thinking - but they would be happier with their health care because of their investment in returning to normal! If they don't know normal, then a slight feeling of malaise might be due to whatever they did last instead of being something to ponder upon.

Yes, we all need to know our fitness level, our resting HR, BP, and RR (respiratory rate). And our resting temperature as well - most are lower than the 98.6 we were taught. You'd be surprised what you can figure out about your own body once you start listening to it, and during a pandemic - the information you glean may save your loved ones!