Apr 20, 2022 - Health

Wearables can track COVID progression, study finds

Illustration of covid cell with three speech bubbles.

Illustration: Allie Carl/Axios

Wearables like smartwatches can track the progression of COVID and even show how sick an individual becomes through their heart rate, according to a study published Tuesday in Cell Reports Medicine.

Why it matters: The study offers further evidence of the potential health care value of consumer-grade wearables.

The details: The study, led by University of Michigan researchers, relied on data from more than 2,000 Fitbits given out to University of Michigan undergrads and thousands more medical interns around the U.S.

  • They specifically looked at heart rate, which most wearable trackers measure, and separated it into six different signals that could indicate physiological changes in the wearer, said researcher Daniel Forger, a professor of mathematics at Michigan.
  • After identifying those who were diagnosed with COVID, they identified changes in the individuals' heart rate data to develop algorithms around changes associated with COVID.

Yes, but: There are still some clear limitations to consumers trying to garner health information from their wearables, as KHN reports today.

What they're saying: This is just an example of the "remarkable" untapped value of the minute-by-minute data being gathered at scale through consumer-grade wearable devices, Forger told Axios.

  • "This points to a middle ground here. We are not at the point with our algorithms where we could detect COVID or diagnose someone better than with gold standard medical devices," he said.
  • "But our point is this data exists on millions of people that could be easily detected when medical devices are scarce," he said.
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