Portable devices – a better way to identify COVID-19 infection?
Portable devices can identify COVID-19 cases earlier than traditional diagnostic methods and can help track and improve disease management, according to researchers at Mount Sinai Hospital in one of the first studies on the subject. The findings were published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research on January 29.
The Warrior Watch study found that slight changes in a participant’s heart rate variability (HRV), as measured by an Apple Watch, could signal COVID-19 up to seven days before the individual was diagnosed via nasal swab, and also to identify those who have symptoms.
“This study highlights the future of digital health,” says study author Robert P. Hirten, MD, an assistant professor of medicine (gastroenterology) at the Icahn Mount Sinai School of Medicine and a member of the Hasso Plattner Institute for Digital Health. “We can basically use these technologies to better address evolving health needs, which we hope will help us improve disease management. Our goal is to operationalize these platforms to improve the health of our patients, and this study is a significant step in this direction. Developing a way to identify people who may be sick, even before they know they are infected, would be a breakthrough in the management of COVID-19.”
The researchers enrolled several hundred workers from the Mount Sinai health system in a digital study between April and September 2020. Participants wore Apple watches and answered daily questions through a custom application. Changes in HRV (a measure of nervous system function detected by the portable device) were used to identify and predict whether workers were infected with COVID-19 or had symptoms. Other daily symptoms that were collected included fever or chills, fatigue or weakness, body aches, dry cough, sneezing, runny nose, diarrhea, sore throat, headache, difficulty breathing, loss of smell or taste and itching of the eyes.
In addition, the researchers found that 7 to 14 days after diagnosis with COVID-19, the HRV model began to normalize and was no longer statistically different from the patterns of those who were not infected.
“This technology allows us not only to track and predict health outcomes, but also to intervene in a timely and remote manner, which is essential during a pandemic that requires people to stay apart,” says the study’s co-author Dr. Zahi Fayad, Director of the Institute of BioMedical Engineering and Imaging, Co-founder of MSCIC and Lucy G. Moses, Professor of Medical Imaging and Bioengineering at Icahn Mount Sinai School of Medicine.
The Warrior Watch study is based on the collaborative effort of the Hasso Plattner Institute for Digital Health and the MSCIC, which represents a diverse group of scientists, engineers, doctors, clinicians and researchers from the Mount Sinai health system who came together in the spring of 2020 to combat COVID-19. The study will further analyze biometrics, including HRV, sleep disruption and physical activity, to better understand which health workers are at risk for the psychological effects of the pandemic.