Wearables on the Frontline: Helping the Fight against COVID-19

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2Q 2020 | IN-5799

Wearables, in particular healthcare devices (such as cellular, Bluetooth, or Wi-Fi connected blood pressure monitors, continuous glucose monitors, pulse oximeters, and electrocardiogram monitors), smartwatches, and activity trackers, have often been used in medical trials to help healthcare professionals monitor the vitals of a large number of patients simultaneously, both in and out of the hospital, often focusing on specific healthcare issues. COVID-19 is no exception, with a number of wearable companies, platform companies, and healthcare companies working together on a number of different projects across a number of regions using wearable devices to aid with tracking the progress of the virus or monitoring the vital statistics of potential sufferers. 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 patients are sent home, ensuring that the seriously ill are cared for in hospital while the less ill are still monitored when at home. With COVID-19, these wearables also help to reduce the amount of unnecessary contact between the seriously ill and medical staff, who are at serious risk of being exposed to the virus and potentially transmitting it to other vulnerable patients.

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Wearables in Healthcare an Integral Part of the Solution to Stop the Spread of COVID-19

NEWS


Wearables, in particular healthcare devices (such as cellular, Bluetooth, or Wi-Fi connected blood pressure monitors, continuous glucose monitors, pulse oximeters, and electrocardiogram monitors), smartwatches, and activity trackers, have often been used in medical trials to help healthcare professionals monitor the vitals of a large number of patients simultaneously, both in and out of the hospital, often focusing on specific healthcare issues. COVID-19 is no exception, with a number of wearable companies, platform companies, and healthcare companies working together on a number of different projects across a number of regions using wearable devices to aid with tracking the progress of the virus or monitoring the vital statistics of potential sufferers. 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 patients are sent home, ensuring that the seriously ill are cared for in hospital while the less ill are still monitored when at home. With COVID-19, these wearables also help to reduce the amount of unnecessary contact between the seriously ill and medical staff, who are at serious risk of being exposed to the virus and potentially transmitting it to other vulnerable patients.

Current Wearable Deployments and Initiatives Aiding the Fight against COVID-19

IMPACT


There are a number of healthcare wearable, smartwatch, and activity tracker deployments in place helping to track and monitor the spread of COVID-19. These include:

  • Masimo SafetyNet: 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. Originally designed and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved for remotely monitoring patients recovering from opioid overdoses in May 2019, the device has been leveraged to monitor patients with COVID-19, thanks to FDA approval which arrived within days. If a patient’s breathing is shallow, or their pulse elevated or lower than normal, caregivers and hospital staff are notified via Doctella CareProgram, a secure remote patient surveillance platform and Bluetooth smartphone application, ensuring that the immediate at-risk patients are cared for. Masimo has thousands of SafetyNet devices ready to deploy and hopes to manufacture up to half a million per week by mid-April.
  • Scripps Research DETECT: Scripps Research Translational Institute has, in the past, tested 200,000 Fitbit wearables over 60 days to determine if they are effective in tracking flu outbreaks, and is now attempting to do the same with wearables in the United States that measure resting heart rate (such as from Apple, Fitbit, Garmin, and others that share data with Google Fit or Apple HealthKit) to track COVID-19. Users of these devices can opt in to the Digital Engagement & Tracking for Early Control & Treatment (DETECT) study to share heart rate, sleep metrics, and activity levels via the CareEvolution platform. Heart rates are often elevated with an infection, while sleep and activity levels are lowered, providing a potential early warning of COVID-19 in an area. Participants can also manually share information about other symptoms, such as fever or coughs, to help with potential identification of the virus. As of this writing, the study has 4,000 people enrolled, with the aim to have hundreds of thousands of participants over the next few weeks. The aim of the study is to give public health officials extra time to act if COVID-19 is suspected to have reached an area. Scripps had already planned a prospective study for two years, but the information is being used immediately to track the spread of COVID-19.
  • Estimote Proof of Health: Estimote has developed a workplace safety pebble-like wearable that can be clipped on a lanyard or on the wrist for those who have to be at a physical workplace when social distancing during the COVID-19 breakout. The wearables take advantage of passive GPS location tracking, Bluetooth proximity sensors, Ultra-Wideband (UWB) radio connectivity, and LTE to allow users with potential COVID-19 symptoms to be tracked and indicate a verified infection. This information will then be used to alert others who have come in close contact with the wearer with the aim of reducing or eliminating the local spread of the virus. The initial pebble-like wearable is in production, with 2,000 initially being deployed and plans to also ramp up production to 10,000 in the next month or two.
  • WHOOP Strap 3.0: WHOOP Strap 3.0 is a Bluetooth-enabled wrist-worn device that is being used in a study with Central Queensland University Australia (CQUniversity) and Cleveland Clinic in Australia, to track the vitals of self-identified COVID-19 patients, in particular, their respiratory behavior, which can be used to distinguish between COVID-19 and flu, potentially before the user has detected the change themselves. The study is expected to take six weeks and currently involves several hundred people, with a target of 500, although that number may increase depending on the prevalence of COVID-19 in WHOOP Strap 3.0 users. WHOOP has also launched a journal feature that allows users to track a variety of other daily behaviors and physiological data, as well as complete surveys and daily check-ins.
  • VivaLNK and SPHCC: Shanghai Public Clinical Center (SPHCC) is working with VivaLNK to use its Bluetooth-enabled continuous temperature sensor monitor to track up to 40 COVID-19 patients in the center, with the aim to reduce caregiver exposure risk levels. The study is also using Cassia Network’s gateway to allow healthcare professionals to have access to continuous real-time body temperature without requiring them to come in close contact.
  • Biomedical Research Centre Project: A Biomedical Research Centre project by Nuffield Department of Clinical Neurosciences and the Institute of Biomedical Engineering has recently been developing and testing a virtual High-Dependency Unit (vHDU), which aids monitoring high-risk patients via wearable sensors that measure pulse rate, respiratory rate, and blood oxygen saturation and display the information on dashboards within the hospital. This is to help reduce the burden on healthcare providers, reducing the level of interaction between them and patients, which is particularly important with COVID-19 due to its high spread rate.
  • Oura Ring: The Oura Ring is a Bluetooth-enabled wearable that tracks body temperature, heart rate, and respiration. Rings are being used by University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) to equip 2,000 emergency workers (including doctors and nurses) in San Francisco to help track vital signs and diagnose COVID-19 quickly. Oura is also asking its 150,000 users to allow their data to be utilized by the project to develop an early detection model.

The Continuing Push into Healthcare Wearables

RECOMMENDATIONS


It is clear that many in the healthcare vertical across many different regions throughout the world believe that wearables are one of the essential ways to track, monitor, and fight the progression of COVID-19 and its symptoms. The fast move to adopt wearables currently in use, the valuable data they provide, the quick development of new products and studies, and the fast approval by the healthcare regulatory agencies is aiding this move to utilize wearables during these difficult times. It is expected that these new deployments and studies undertaken during the COVID-19 pandemic will act as a boost to the healthcare wearables market in the longer term, with more awareness around how these devices can aid healthcare professionals, save valuable time and resources, and improve the level of care for patients.

Whilst there are an increasing number of these vital trials, studies, and deployments of wearables aiding the fight against COVID-19, more can always be done. More wearable and healthcare companies are recommended to look into how a variety of different wearable devices can help, either by tracking the spread of the virus in different regions to give healthcare professionals more information about what locations are affected badly and where more staff are needed, or by remotely monitoring patients to reduce the amount of interaction between them and healthcare professionals, ensuring that the ones with the most severe symptoms are treated immediately. Not only will this help with urgent COVID-19 issues, it will also help with any future healthcare related outbreaks, including handling second and even third waves of the virus. Healthcare wearables are expected to see shipments increase from 30 million in 2020 to 104 million in 2025, at a Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 29%, with Average Selling Prices (ASPs) dropping from US$121 to US$108, which shows that there is a real push toward using these devices to aid the healthcare vertical.

 

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