Pioneering study to explore whether smart wearable devices can detect COVID-19
Researchers from King’s College London have launched a free mobile app, called Mass Science, which will enable scientists to investigate the use of wearable devices and smartphones for digital detection of COVID-19.
As well as exploring digital detection of COVID-19, the new study will look at how coronavirus spreads and how the pandemic affects people’s mental and physical health.
The researchers, funded by National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Maudsley Biomedical Research Centre (BRC), created the Mass Science app that allows COVID-Collab study participants to connect wearables, such as Fitbit devices, and share data including heart rate, activity and sleep.
Participants can also use the app to provide information on geographic location, mood, and mental health in addition to COVID-19 symptoms and a diagnosis if they have tested positive for the disease.
The King’s College London researchers will then analyse the data, including heart rate and activity, when a participant reports feeling ill or tests positive for COVID-19. By looking for differences in the data during the time of reported illness compared with their normal healthy periods, the researchers aim to develop a potential digital test for early warning signs of coronavirus.
The university adds that if a Fitbit user was previously ill or diagnosed with COVID-19 in the past, they can use the study app to share their historical data covering this period of illness.
Study lead, Dr Amos Folarin, Software Development Group Leader at the NIHR Maudsley Biomedical Research Centre, commented: “With a lack of information on who is infected in the population, especially asymptomatic, we are investigating how wearable data can be used to detect COVID-19. Having a cheap, continuous digital test for infection could be a game-changer.”
King’s College London outlines that the more people who participate in this pioneering study, the better the researchers can understand more about the use of smartphones and wearables to detect COVID-19.
The researchers want to learn more about: the accuracy of wearable devices as digital tests for coronavirus and other respiratory illnesses; whether automated monitoring of disease symptoms could help track the disease nationally; which symptoms are reliable, early predictors of infection; how contagious the virus is; the impact of social distancing on transmission of COVID-19 in the UK; the impact of social distancing on people’s mood and stress; and whether wearable data can be used to identify COVID-19 infection before the person experiences symptoms.
According to the university, early research shows that resting heart rate data and other key health indicators from wearables have the potential to identify flu-like illness before symptoms emerge.
Now, COVID-Collab researchers will analyse heart rate, activity data and location data to look for signals of illness in participants who report in-app having tested positive for COVID-19 or experience known symptoms.
If a signal can be validated by the study, with further development, this could form the basis of a continuous monitoring system that sends users alerts when they might be experiencing early symptoms, including elevated resting heart rate, of viruses such as COVID-19.
This would provide a valuable, continuous and cost-effective tool to help stem the spread of the virus.
Earlier this year, Fitbit announced a collaborative effort to support research aimed at using data from wearables, such as Fitbit devices, to help detect, track and contain infectious diseases like COVID-19.
The consortium brings together research already underway, including The Scripps Research Translational Institute’s DETECT study and The Stanford Healthcare Innovation lab’s COVID-19 wearables study. Building on these partnerships, Fitbit launched its own COVID-19 Study to help Fitbit determine if it can build an algorithm to detect COVID-19, before symptoms start.
“In light of the global pandemic, Fitbit’s mission to help people get healthier has never been more important. We’ve seen early evidence from the Fitbit COVID-19 Study that data from wearables have the potential to serve as a powerful public health tool by helping to identify people with viral illnesses such as COVID-19,” said Nicola Maxwell, Director for Fitbit Health Solutions in EMEA. “The new Mass Science mobile app by the research team at King’s College London has the potential to leverage the power of community to explore how wearables like Fitbit devices can broaden our understanding of COVID-19 and how the illness affects people’s health.”
People interested in participating in the COVID-Collab study can download the Mass Science app for Android or iOs from Google Play or the App Store, respectively.
King’s College London says owning a Fitbit device is not a requirement to participate in the study, but that the university is especially keen to hear from people own a wearable device.