What if a “smartwatch” could detect COVID-19 before symptoms even arose? That’s just may be a reality as some hard working, brilliant Stanford University School of Medicine researchers went on to develop just such a smartphone app designed to alert users when their bodies evidence signs of fighting off an infection, such as elevated heart rate. Powered by an algorithm that can actually detect changes to the person’s resting heart rate and step count, a recent retrospective study evidenced the app could accurately flag signs of COVID-19 prior to or as symptoms arose 63% of the time. In fact, the missed cases could be explained by select factors, suggested study lead professor Michael Snyder, PhD, chair of genetics. Some of these factors could include medication, which can lead to variable heart rate hence confusing the Stanford app. Other factors include air travel, menstrual cycles and duration in a high altitude area, all of which can trigger false alerts. Now the team moves beyond pilot to not only work to refine the accuracy of the app but also to make the app available to up to 10 million new users. The smartphone alerting system will include alerts such as “yellow” and “red.” The app isn’t smart enough to differentiate COVID-19 from a cold yet. Initially available on Fitbit devices, the team will strive to make the product available on several smartwatches and devices that can be used to track heart rate.
Written up recently by Stanford’s Hanae Armitage, the results of the pilot study were just published Nov. 18 in Nature Biomedical Engineering.
The study included both researchers from the Department of Genetics, Stanford University School of Medicine and The Center for RNA Science and Therapeutics, Case Western University in Cleveland (Xio Li).
Xiao Li, PhD, Assistant Professor, Division of General Medical Sciences, School of Medicine; Member, Center for RNA Science and Therapeutics, School of Medicine