As the world searches for a way to bring society back online after coronavirus social isolation, researchers are springing into action to find novel ways to detect diseases early. One method involves strapping on a common, everyday wearable.
Stanford Medicine announced Tuesday that its researchers are working on an algorithmic model for detecting if a person is sick using data collected from wearables. It has partnered with Fitbit and other tech and academic partners on the effort, and is now looking for participants to help refine the diagnostic tool.
As a partner, Fitbit (which is owned by Google) will be informing users of the ability to participate in the research. It is also giving the researchers 1,000 smartwatches.
The idea is that smartwatches or other wearable sensors may have the ability to detect symptoms that indicate a viral infection before a person notices it themselves. Those symptoms include higher skin temperature, elevated heart rate, and more. They’re the kind of physical manifestations of feeling “off” that might make you wonder if you’re sick without being able to say so definitively.
This is a period of time when a sick person might be spreading their infection without even knowing they’re sick, which is why early detection is crucial for stopping the spread of diseases like COVID-19.
“Smartwatches and other wearables make many, many measurements per day — at least 250,000, which is what makes them such powerful monitoring devices,” Michael Snyder, the professor and chair of genetics at the Stanford School of Medicine, said in the press statement. “My lab wants to harness that data and see if we can identify who’s becoming ill as early as possible — potentially before they even know they’re sick.”
Other research organizations are experimenting with early detection, such as the organization that is running a trial for a sensor implanted under the skin that can help detect blood oxygen levels. Apple and Google also recently announced that the two companies would be helping with coronavirus early detection through an app that would enable the government to practice “contact tracing,” a method to see who an infected person might have come in contact with, and to stop the spread.
But with such a widely used device as Fitbit in on the action of the Stanford researchers, the barrier to early detection might just be a little bit lower.
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