So why isn’t this being rolled out as a feature in iOS yet?
Photo Source: mountsinai.org
As has been reported over the last year, there are multiple ongoing studies using wearables, including the Apple Watch, to track the health of participants and see if it’s possible to use such devices to detect COVID-19 before symptoms become noticeable. One of these studies is based at the Mount Sinai COVID Informatics Center, and it has now resulted in a paper published for peer review in the Journal of Medical Internet Research.
This study is still ongoing and is being carried out by Mount Sinai staff who volunteered. They are using dedicated Apple Watch and iPhone apps to monitor and collect the necessary data for the study.
While other studies involving wearables have watched for skin temperature rises and changes in the wearer’s Resting Heart Rate, this study is using Heart Rate Variability (HRV) to determine that a shift is occurring in the participant’s health. This information combined with a daily health survey was used to determine which participants may have COVID, and the results proved accurate enough that they have been submitted for peer review.
According to TechCrunch, the Mount Sinai study is now focusing on monitoring participants health AFTER they are diagnosed to find out what the Watch’s sensors can tell us about participants during illness and recovery.
The study is ongoing and will expand to examine what else wearables like the Apple Watch and their onboard sensors can tell us about other impacts of COVID-19 on the health of care workers, including what factors like sleep and physical activity can have in association with the disease.
I realize that this and other wearables studies still haven’t made any final determinations. I also understand that the FDA hasn’t weighed in yet. However, I am still wondering why Apple and other wearables manufacturers haven’t started specifically monitoring some of this same data to issue alerts for certain trends in heart data.
Companies don’t have to have FDA approval for general health monitoring and recommendations. Unlike the ECG feature, which does have FDA testing and approval, Apple’s new Blood Oxygen sensor on the Apple Watch 6 isn’t used to make specific recommendations. Much the same, Apple could just let users know about trends in heart data that they should be aware of. However, what would be even better is if the FDA would give manufacturers some provisional approval to make general COVID-related recommendations, such as to consider getting tested.
As we still try to get out from under this ongoing pandemic, a tool that could recommend testing several days ahead of symptoms and prevent asymptomatic spread could be hugely valuable. Unfortunately, I have a feeling that by the time such features get formal approval, the opportunity to help get control of this pandemic will have already passed.
However, even if that is the case, it is still really impressive to see all that we can learn from these tiny computers we wear each day. Also, I can’t help but feel a little better using an Apple Watch for this kind of health monitoring thanks to the company’s focus on data privacy.