A research group out of Mount Sinai tracked physiological data of healthcare workers using wearable devices to determine if COVID-19 could be detected prior to a positive diagnosis.
Devices such as Apple watches provide valuable information about the wearer, including sleep patterns and heart rate, as well as the functioning of the nervous system. Heart rate variability (HRV) can be tracked using a wearable device and can be used to monitor changes in the circadian pattern. This pattern can be used to describe the changes in the autonomic nervous system. Previous research has shown that low HRV may indicate an infection in an individual.
To determine if changes in HRV could be used as a predictor of infection, almost three hundred healthcare workers from Mount Sinai Health System were asked to participate in an observational study. Each individual wore an Apple watch to track their HRV and would complete surveys daily to assess symptoms and infections. The physiological data from the workers was collected using a specialized app called the Warrior Watch Study App.
It was found that there was a difference in circadian rhythm and HRV between those individuals who tested positive for COVID-19 compared to those who did not. Changes were also observed in days where participants reported symptoms and symptom-free days. Diagnosis of SARS-CoV-2 is commonly accomplished by using a nasal PCR (polymerase chain reaction) swab. Researchers were able to conclude that HRV metrics could be used to identify COVID-19 infection and symptoms.
One of the limitations of this study was that there were only a small percentage of participants who were positive for COVID-19. More studies should be completed with a larger number of individuals to reduce any bias. Additionally, all data was self-reported, which may produce unreliable data.
The information presented in this study is extremely valuable for those that may not have access to COVID-19 testing or are awaiting results. Testing for COVID-19 continues to be in high demand, so wait times may be extended or there may be a short supply of tests. Additionally, those that may be asymptomatic or not be showing conventional signs of COVID-19 could take advantage of monitoring their HRV and other physiological data using wearable devices.
Essential workers like healthcare professionals may choose to use wearable devices to detect COVID-19 as a precaution. These individuals are at a higher risk of contracting COVID-19 and are routinely being tested but may choose to monitor their HRV as an additional preventative measure. Wearable devices like Apple watches are relatively accessible and can provide valuable information that could reduce further transmission of the deadly COVID-19 virus.
Hirten RP, Danieletto M, Tomalin L, Choi KH, Zweig M, Golden E, Kaur S, Helmus D, Biello A, Pyzik R, Charney A, Miotto R, Glicksberg BS, Levin M, Nabeel I, Aberg J, Reich D, Charney D, Bottinger EP, Keefer L, Suarez-Farinas M, Nadkarni GN, Fayad ZA. Physiological Data from a Wearable Device Identifies SARS-CoV-2 Infection and Symptoms and Predicts COVID-19 Diagnosis: Observational Study. Journal of Medical Internet Research. 29/01/2021:26107 (forthcoming/in press)
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