Apple Watch Detects COVID-19 7 Days Earlier than Regular Tests

The new method uses heart rate variabilities to identify symptoms early on, paving the way for future diagnostic methods.
Fabienne Lang

A section of the future of digital health has been presented by Mount Sinai researchers in the form of an Apple Watch. 

The team's Warrior Watch Study is one of the first on the topic of wearable devices being used to identify COVID-19 in people. It turns out that wearing such a device can identify the virus up to seven days earlier than current testing methods, such as nasal swabs. 

This new method could pave the way for future diagnostic methods, and assist in tracking and improving the management of the virus. 

The team's study was published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research.

How wearable devices detect COVID-19

Throughout the course of the study, which spanned from April until September 2020, the team enlisted several hundred healthcare workers from Mount Sinai. These participants wore Apple Watches that were linked to their iPhone apps, using the app to collect and monitor their health status. They also completed daily surveys to give feedback on potential COVID-19 symptoms, and other factors such as stress. 

The main focus that the study's researchers paid close attention to was heart rate variability (HRV), something that detects when a person's nervous system is strained. 

What the team noticed was that through this method of wearing an Apple Watch and closely tracking participants' health, they could predict infections up to a week before traditional tests confirmed the diagnoses. 

What's more, they noted that HRV patterns lowered back to normal one to two weeks after the diagnosis. 

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How these could be useful against COVID-19

By helping detect COVID-19 earlier thanks to wearables, more people could isolate sooner, thus minimizing the spread of the virus during that crucial week before tests are carried out.

More importantly, though, is that this method can be carried out remotely. No healthcare workers need to be put into danger to carry out traditional COVID-19 tests, as the diagnosis would be anticipated and detected from a distance, and early on. 

The team highlights that it's continuing to collect data on how wearing Apple Watches and other wearable devices can further help uncover what impact COVID-19 has on healthcare workers' health, and how factors like sleep and physical activity are associated with the disease.

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