The Apple Watch and other smart wearables may have an important part to play in the struggle against COVID-19 and should help businesses provide better healthcare protection to staff.
Wearables can predict infection
Two recent independent studies from Mount Sinai Health System and Stanford University show that Apple Watch and other sensor-packed fitness wearables from Garmin and Fitbit can signal the early sign of COVID-19 infection days before symptoms appear.
“This study really highlights where digital health is moving,” said Dr. Robert Hirten, who led the Mount Sinai study.
“It shows that we can use these technologies to better address evolving health needs, which will hopefully help us better manage disease in the future. While we aren’t there yet, our goal is to operationalize these platforms to improve the health of our patients.”
The Stanford study found 81% test participants with COVID-19 experienced changes in their resting heart rates up to 9.5 days before symptoms emerged.
The use of Apple Watch as a predictive health monitoring device was also explored by Stanford in a 2017 study, which determined that the diagnostic data gathered by the device could help warn of imminent illness.
No app for that (just yet)
While the news concerning early warning about COVID-19 is promising, there is no app designed to monitor for these signs available at time of writing. In part, this is because it is necessary to ensure such tests are reliable before marketing them as being so. There is also the problem that false positives may add to the pressure already being felt by health providers worldwide while fostering a false sense of certainty. After all, we’re all pretty burned out when it comes to coping with the COVID-19 pandemic, so tests that are accurate are hugely important.
However, as an adjunct to existing testing and tracking tools, it seems plausible to imagine smart device manufacturers will take this research and expedite development of monitoring tools based on their tech. If they do so, they will need to explain this data may not be completely accurate and should be used in conjunction with other tests.
This should be useful to all of us, particularly to employers of mission critical on-site staff, as those few days of advance warning could help reduce overall infection: Staffers who receive an alert of potential infection can be supported to stay home and get tested, helping limit the possibility of infecting other essential workers.
Advance warning of potential infection is incredibly valuable, particularly given so many are both asymptomatic and the length of time the virus sits before infection becomes obvious.
Of course, used in conjunction with the built-in COVID-19 trackers inside Android and iOS devices, these wearables could help reduce the spread of the virus and save lives.
Enable Cardio Fitness
Given the regulatory obstacles to developing such a solution fast, it may be useful to recognize how Apple Watch can already help maintain heart health using the new Cardio Fitness Level tool introduced with watchOS 7.2 and iOS 14.3 iPhones.
The tool provides useful insight into how healthy your heart is by measuring your maximum oxygen consumption levels. To enable the feature:
- Open Health on your iPhone.
- Tap Browse>Heart and look for Cardio Fitness.
- Tap this and then choose the Set up
- Follow the setup steps and you’ll be able to monitor your cardio fitness.
(If you’re anything like me, you may see an alarming decline in overall fitness over the holiday season, compounded by lockdown where I am – and this particular Health data reading makes that decline quite obvious.)
The use of wearables to monitor, warn and guide people into establishing better self care models is implicit to Apple’s plans around the watch. “Most of the money in healthcare goes to the cases that weren’t identified early enough,” Apple CEO Tim Cook has said. “It will take some time, but things that we are doing now — that I’m not going to talk about today — those give me a lot of cause for hope.”