Smart wearable devices are helping improve COVID-19 prognosis and health management

Huami (NYSE:HMI), a global leader in the wearable devices industry, recently announced a partnership with the National Clinical Research Center for Respiratory Disease and Guangdong Nanshan Pharmaceutical Innovation Research Institute that will focus on how  smart wearable devices can help combat COVID-19. The Research Center is led by Dr. Zhong Nanshan, who heads a team advising the Chinese government on the management of the COVID-19 outbreak, similar to the role of Dr. Anthony Fauci in the United States. The three-party collaboration will provide follow-ups and rehabilitation management for COVID-19 patients in China after their discharge from the hospital.

Huami’s lab in Hefei

The partnership will utilize a ‘medical-research-corporation’ model, where each party focuses on its speciality in addressing the current challenges of patient post-discharge management. Studies suggest patients in convalescence may still be contagious, and that the reemergence of COVID-19 after discharge is possible. By April 11, there were more than 77,900 patients in China who had recovered from COVID-19. Frequent monitoring and communication is critical to detecting anything abnormal with patients in the early stages of recovery. However, asking patients to visit hospitals frequently, or asking physicians to do home visits, is very challenging and resource-demanding. Wrist-worn devices such as Huami’s Amazfit series can serve as an economically feasible solution to address these needs. 

For the discharged patients who are willing to join the program and give their consent, they will wear an AMAZFIT Smartwatch. The device collects and analyzes data on the patient’s activities, sleep patterns, and heart rate, and has built-in features to monitor the patient’s health 24/7, including the BioTracker PPG heart rate sensor. It runs on the Huangshan No. 1 chip, an AI-powered chip that allows patients to receive an ECG (electrocardiogram) without visiting the hospital. The embedded RealBeats AI-based biological data engine can identify arrhythmia and warn patients. According to a study done in Beijing No. 1 Hospital, the RealBeats AI technology is about  93% as accurate as what ECGs can do in hospitals.

When someone is unwell, they tend to sleep more, exercise less and their resting heart rate (RHR) increases. Coupled with RHR data and sleep data, population data trends may help forecast and monitor the onset of infectious diseases, according to an article from the Lancet. In fact, a Stanford University study found that Huami’s devices measure sleep patterns quite accurately. The company has collected large amounts of quantitative healthcare related data, including a cumulative 81.2 trillion steps, 7 billion nights of sleep data and 21.1 billion hours of heart rate data, by the end of this March, under the consent of its users. 

The data can be used for alerting and warning patients about anything abnormal, as well as for medical research and epidemic forecasts for healthcare professionals on a larger scale. In January, Huami compared the data from its users in Wuhan with those of other Chinese cities and found abnormal physiological trends this year, such as RHR and sleep pattern changes, correlating with the outbreak in Wuhan. It is a hypothesis yet to be verified. 

To lessen the number of hospital visits patients are required to make, Huami has a VIP healthcare package for its users that includes ECG readings, telemedicine services, appointment services, and in-hospital fast track treatment. The unlimited internal medicine queries included in the package are not intended to replace actual visits that require lab tests, but to better allow users to find quick answers to common questions. If the COVID-19 patients who participate in prognosis management have access to these remote services, they will likely benefit from them through greater safety and efficiency. 

As of today, the risk of reinfection for COVID-19 and the transmission rate of asymptomatic carriers remain unclear, but China is working hard to prevent a potential second wave of the outbreak. The data gathered from patients who recover from COVID-19 will offer researchers first hand information to produce new findings and potentially guide physicians or pharmaceutical firms in their practices. The data may help find some correlations between the recorded physiological measurements and reinfection cases, as well as identify abnormal trends at an earlier stage.

Moving forward, the new partnership will dig deeper into the data, in search of findings that will further improve the ability to predict the outbreak and allow the authorities to be alerted and act as soon as possible. 

From serving customers who seek wellness to those who recovered from COVID-19, Huami is continuing its strategy of building a healthcare ecosystem that connects technology with healthcare for everyone. Huami donated smart watches that can help relieve pressure for healthcare professionals in Wuhan. Most recently, Huami signed an agreement with The Chinese Athletic Association (CAA) to help athletes prepare for the Olympics using the smart wrist-worn devices and earwears. Huami aims to use its data, and analysis conducted by both itself and its partners, to create a health ecosystem in the long-run that better mitigates public health risks.

(Top photo from Huami)

Fang Yuan

Fang Yuan is our columnist. She used to live in New York and is originally from Shanghai. She is a Certified Passive House Consultant and works on sustainable building consulting. She believes that technology helps people and the environment if it is being used mindfully.

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