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Wearables: A Powerful Weapon to Fight Covid-19

It is becoming vital for hospitals to diagnose Covid-19 patients early on and monitor their health in real time while avoiding contact between patients and medical staff. In such a scenario wearable technology can play a key role in monitoring critical information, such as, patient’s pulse, heart rate, breathing rate, blood oxygen levels and body temperature.

A recent ABI Research expects 30 million wearable devices capable of tracking, monitoring and fighting the progression of Covid-19 to ship to healthcare organizations and patients by end of this year. The research firm expects this number to grow to 104 million within by 2025 based on infectious diseases like Covid-19 and the increasing need to remotely monitor patient’s medical status. Wearables are also increasingly helping physicians to monitor elderly patients at home.

Harnessing wearables to track Covid-19

Several wearable, platform and healthcare companies are working together on different projects that use healthcare wearable devices, smart watches, or activity trackers to aid with tracking the progress of the virus or monitoring the vital statistics of the potential victim. (Read more: Smartwatch, Ear-wear Fuel Enterprise Wearable Growth: IDC)

“The wearable trials and deployments that record vitals and monitor symptoms alert medical professionals if a patient’s condition worsens. This becomes particularly important when the number of hospital beds is limited and so many patients are being sent home, ensuring that the seriously ill are cared for in a hospital while the less ill are still monitored when at home,” Stephanie Tomsett, Wearables Analyst at ABI Research explains. 

With COVID-19, these wearables also help to reduce the amount of unnecessary contact between the seriously ill and medical professionals, who are at serious risk of exposure to the virus transmission.

“There are some exciting wearable deployments in place which are helping to track and monitor the spread of COVID-19,” Tomsett points out. For example, Masimo SafetyNet is a wearable wristband device with a disposable fingertip attachment that monitors a patient’s pulse, breathing rate, and blood oxygen levels, both in and out of a hospital setting.

Whoop, another Boston-based startup that shifted from wellness and sports to focus on Covid-19 and now showcases how its members are fighting the coronavirus pandemic. The wearables are helping patients in their hospital room, in transit or at home, and can automatically alert healthcare staff members in real time, who in turn can use their smartphones or smart watches to communicate with each other and take the proper care to check on a patient in need. This has become vital in the context of Covid-19 as every minute counts to save a patient’s life.

One of the more innovative devices is a wireless wearable the size of a postage stamp that attaches just below a patient’s throat. Developed by researchers at Northwestern University, the device can monitor coughing patterns associated with chest wall movements, heart rate, respiratory sounds and body temperature.

Many wearables startups in India too are looking to support consumers during the pandemic. Over the last few months, a growing number of startups with sports tech, wellbeing and fitness backgrounds, pivoting and tweaking their products to help fight the progression of Covid-19. 

For example, an Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Madras-incubated startup Muse Wearables has developed a wrist-based tracker with skin temperature, heart rate and SpO2 (blood oxygen saturation) sensing which can continuously track these body vitals remotely that will help in early diagnosis of COVID-19 symptoms.

The tracker is Bluetooth-enabled and can be connected to the mobile phone via an app called the ‘Muse Health App’. The user vitals and activity data are stored on the phone as well as a remote server.

“They have quickly mobilized and repurposed their offerings in response to the situation and are striving to make a positive contribution to the nation’s anti-virus efforts,” Tamaswati Ghosh, Chief Executive Officer, IIT Madras Incubation Cell says.

Ghosh informs, the wearable tracker’s major objective is to enable remote detection of COVID-19 and Monitoring of COVID-19 patients by providing a low-cost solution that is accessible to everyone.

A strong future potential

The market is also seeing the emergence of smart watches embedded with digital assistants that can help users find out if they have Covid-19 symptoms. Like, Amazon has empowered its virtual assistant Alexa to answer almost all basic questions around COVID-19 pandemic in countries around the world and advice precautions related to the virus.

IEEE senior officer Ramneek Kalra agrees, “Wearables and smart watches have become popular because they inform us about health vitals like biometrically tracking unusual spikes in heart rates, and monitoring sleep and weight. These same technologies may have the capability to monitor and track COVID-19 symptoms, such as fever or increased heart rates.

“Integration of biomedical sensors on employees’ arms through smart watches, which can be connected through dedicated analytic servers, can help to test if employees are sick or not,” he explains.

While there are an increasing number of trials, studies and deployments of wearables helping in the fight against COVID-19, a lot more needs to be done. (Read more: Wearable Tech is Maturing, Not Yet Mainstream)

“More wearable and healthcare companies need to look into how a variety of different wearable devices can help either by tracking the spread of the virus in different regions to provide information on locations affected, or by remotely monitoring patients to reduce the amount of interaction between them and healthcare professionals. Not only will this help with the immediate issues with COVID-19 but will also help with any future healthcare related outbreaks and mitigate recurrence of the pandemic in second and even third waves,” Tomsett says. 

The future will see more innovations in wearable technology and clinical mobility solutions to help people informed about own health and track their medical improvement, while aiming to limit visits at medical facilities. Experts believe the potential that wearables have for helping detect early signs of Covid-19 and other infectious diseases, as well as monitoring patients, will make this technology a preferred choice for healthcare organizations in the days to come.

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Sohini Bagchi
Sohini Bagchi is Editor at CXOToday, a published author and a storyteller. She can be reached at sohini.bagchi@trivone.com