Smartwatches such as the Apple Watch, and fitness trackers such as those made by companies like Garmin and Fitbit, can be critical in detecting Covid-19 cases among asymptomatic patients days before they show any sign of being unwell, claims research studies conducted by various bodies such as the Mount Sinai Health System in New York and Stanford University in California. According to the studies, trackers such as Fitbit, Garmin and the Apple Watch can detect heart rate variability – a metric that experts claim is key to finding out whether something is wrong with your body.
The metric of heart rate variability essentially measures the time between two heart beats. If your health is fine and your body is not suffering from any infection, it is common for your heart rate to fluctuate depending on the situation that you are in. For instance, your heart rate will change as your nervous system reacts to stress, relaxed times and any relevant time. However, if your body is suffering from infections, and in particular inflammatory infections, the nervous system reacts slower, leading to lesser variability in heart rates.
Rob Hirten, author of the Mount Sinai study on the trackers and assistant professor of medicine at the Icahn School of Medicine at the institute, said in an interview with CBS News, “Right now, we rely on people saying they're sick and not feeling well, but wearing an Apple Watch doesn't require any active user input and can identify people who might be asymptomatic. It's a way to better control infectious diseases. We already knew that heart rate variability markers change as inflammation develops in the body, and Covid is an incredibly inflammatory event. It allows us to predict that people are infected before they know it.”
Professor Michael Snyder, who led the research for Stanford University, further highlighted that the biggest advantage with using trackers and smartwatches to detect infections is that this can enable a consistent monitoring and therefore help quicker detection of not just Covid-19, but any other disease. This is in stark contrast to how Covid-19 testing works today, which can at best take at least 24 hours, and can hence be done only once in a few days. This decreases the efficiency of early detection of Covid-19, and this is where the fitness trackers and smartwatches kick in.
Reports on the matter have claimed that neither Apple, and nor Garmin, Fitbit or any other wearable maker participated as sponsors in the studies. Going forward, it will be interesting to see if any of the wearable trackers get the ability to offer prompts to make doctor visits based on heart rate anomalies. The Apple Watch has often been credited with helping detect the onset of a heart attack, therefore making life-saving interventions for people. These studies in recent times go further in cementing the serious credentials that smartwatches and trackers of today come with.