As we continue another week of dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic, it’s interesting to see how countries are using smart devices and services to enforce lockdowns. The solutions range from tracking locations of individuals at the state level to centralized systems that provide residents with a wellness score in a mobile app. If the app says you’re a health risk, you’re not getting into a business, store or other places.
Obviously, we have no such system here in the U.S., although now might be the time to consider one. The reason we don’t is more of an ideological one based on personal freedom than it is on lacking the technology for such systems. Could there be a bit of a compromise between sharing some personal information and maintaining data privacy though? I think so, although the details are fraught with potential pitfalls.
Much of what I’m thinking about here is based on a recent FDA update relating to telemedicine, one of many industries that have quickly moved from on-site to remote work.
The FDA last week said “manufacturers of certain FDA-cleared non-invasive, vital sign-measuring devices to expand their use so that health care providers can use them to monitor patients remotely. The devices include those that measure body temperature, respiratory rate, heart rate, and blood pressure.”
Now this by itself won’t enable a national health monitoring system; it’s meant for doctors to specifically monitor health metrics from specific patients. But I think this data, properly anonymized and aggregated, of course, could be useful to the country as a whole in times of a health crisis.
The US Health Weather Map (shown above) is a perfect example of this right now. The map is built from temperature data captured by the Kinsa smart thermometer. I don’t need to know who has a temperature near my location, but it’s nice to know, for example, that the general trend of Kinsa thermometer users near me may show an above-average number of people that have a fever.
Again, I realize that there are legitimate privacy concerns here. I’d be worried about who has the data, what other uses it might have and the potential for individual citizen tracking of some sort. Then again, doesn’t the Kinsa approach mirror that of traffic patterns if you use Google Maps or Apple Maps?
Kinsa is one current example of a smart product that could provide this national health map. Other devices could also be data contributors too: Those that can measure “respiratory rate, heart rate, and blood pressure.” And we have a fair number of those currently available.
Stacey previously reviewed the washable Spire tags, which you attach to your undergarments to track health data, including respiratory rate. According to the company, an IEEE peer-reviewed study shows that Spire tags have a 93 – 98% statistical correlation to medical-grade devices when measuring respiratory patterns. That data could go a long way to seeing the spread of respiratory viruses across the nation.
Along the same lines, devices with a pulse oximeter can contribute as well, showing data were people aren’t getting enough oxygen into their blood over time.
Many Garmin smartwatches including the Vivosmart 4, Fenix and Forerunner product lines have a built-in pulse ox sensor, for example. There are also a number of standalone pulse oximeters you can buy for manual testing, although I like my Garmin for this: It measures all the time, which is useful for spotting trends.
And nearly all smart wearables above a certain price point include a heart rate (HR) monitor. Apple has a big chunk of HR data and has partnered with some research hospitals to offer opt-in medical studies. Perhaps this data could also be used to create the health map I’m thinking of.
Again, I don’t want to discount privacy concerns here. We each make individual choices to determine which companies we do, and don’t, trust with our data. However, there is an opportunity to use smart devices in a way that provides value in times of health crises without giving up too much information.