Fitbit announced today it will receive nearly $2.5 million from the U.S. Department of Defense through the U.S. Army Medical Research and Development Command to expand its work in developing an algorithm that can detect COVID-19 before symptoms show.
In addition to the award, Fitbit will begin a study with Northwell Health’s Feinstein Institutes for Medical Research to further advance the early detection algorithm.
As a part of the study, Fitbit will distribute thousands of their wearable fitness devices to Northwell Health employees to test the algorithm’s ability to detect illness. The employees will receive notifications if the device picks up on early signs of infection and prompt them to get tested to verify the results.
“The combination of Feinstein Institutes’ research expertise, Northwell’s COVID-19 testing capabilities and Fitbit’s promising algorithm in development, presents a unique opportunity to accelerate early detection of COVID-19, particularly for our frontline health care workers,” said Dr. Karina Davidson, senior vice president at the Feinstein Institutes, in a statement.
“Based on our learnings, we aim to work together to advise other large-scale health systems on this approach to minimizing the spread of COVID-19.”
WHY THIS MATTERS
Fitbit was selected by the U.S. Army Medical Research and Development Command based on the early findings from its COVID-19 research.
Back in May, the company started enrolling participants in the study. It sought device owners over the age of 21 in the U.S. or Canada who either had a confirmed case of COVID-19 or recently experienced symptoms consistent with the disease.
To date, the study has more than 187,000 people involved with more than 2,700 confirmed cases of COVID-19.
Early findings suggest that Fitbit wearables can detect nearly 50% of COVID-19 cases one day before participants report the onset of symptoms, with 70% specificity. The most useful metrics to predict the onset of illness are breathing rate, resting heart rate and heart rate variability, especially when these are tracked at night as the user sleeps.
Because some carriers of COVID-19 are contagious without showing symptoms, using biomarkers to predict illness could reduce its spread.
Further, early detection of COVID-19 in high-risk patients led to quicker intervention and lower rates of mortality, according to research in Annals of Intensive Care.
THE LARGER TREND
Early detection of COVID-19 has been a priority for researchers since the beginning of the pandemic.
The Scripps Research Institute, which is a part of a research consortium with Fitbit, launched the DETECT (Digital Engagement & Tracking for Early Control & Treatment) Study to use wearables as a tool for early detection.
The MRC Epidemiology Unit at the University of Cambridge, with digital health company Huma, launched the Fenland Study, which hopes to use reported health information to help researchers understand the disease progression and early predictors of COVID-19.
Spain-based medtech company, QUIBIM, also got in on the early detection wave by using its radiomics platform’s artificial intelligence to read medical images for disease-specific biomarkers, enabling early detection of diseases such as COVID-19.
ON THE RECORD
“Our research shows that our bodies start to fight the disease before more visible symptoms appear and we believe Fitbit can reliably detect these signals, giving us an incredible opportunity to get ahead of this virus and help alert people that they could be sick before they unknowingly spread it to others. This award will help advance this important research,” said Amy McDonough, GM and SVP of Fitbit Health Solutions, in a statement.