Researchers at Northwestern University and Shirley Ryan AbilityLab in Chicago have developed a novel wearable device and are creating a set of data algorithms specifically tailored to catch early signs and symptoms associated with COVID-19 and to monitor patients as the illness progresses.
Capable of being worn 24/7, the device produces continuous streams of data and uses artificial intelligence to uncover subtle, but potentially life-saving, insights. Filling a vital data gap, it continuously measures and interprets coughing and respiratory activity in ways that are impossible with traditional monitoring systems.
About 25 affected individuals began using the devices two weeks ago. They are being monitored both in the clinic and at home, totaling more than 1,500 cumulative hours and generating more than one terabyte of data.
About the size of a postage stamp, the soft, flexible, wireless, thin device sits just below the suprasternal notch — the visible dip at the base of the throat. From this location, the device monitors coughing intensity and patterns, chest wall movements (which indicate labored or irregular breathing), respiratory sounds, heart rate and body temperature, including fever. From there, it wirelessly transmits data to a HIPAA-protected cloud, where automated algorithms produce graphical summaries tailored to facilitate rapid, remote monitoring.
“The most recent studies published in the Journal of the American Medical Association suggest that the earliest signs of a COVID-19 infection are fever, coughing and difficulty in breathing. Our device sits at the perfect location on the body — the suprasternal notch — to measure respiratory rate, sounds and activity because that’s where airflow occurs near the surface of the skin,” said Northwestern’s John A. Rogers, who led the technology development.
“Having the ability to monitor ourselves and our patients — and being alerted to changing conditions in real time — will give clinicians a new and important tool in the fight against COVID-19,” said Dr. Mark Huang, a physician at Shirley Ryan AbilityLab, who has worn the sensor. “The sensor also will offer clinicians and patients peace of mind as it monitors COVID-like symptoms, potentially prompting earlier intervention and treatment.”
The device can monitor hospitalized patients and then be taken home to continue 24/7 supervision. The real-time data streaming from patients gives insights into their health and outcomes that is currently not being captured or analyzed by traditional monitoring systems.
“This opens up new telemedicine strategies as we won’t have to bring in patients for monitoring,” said Arun Jayaraman, a research scientist at Shirley Ryan AbilityLab, who is leading the algorithm development. “Physicians can potentially review the patients’ data for hours, days or weeks, immediately through a customized graphical user interface to a cloud data management system that is being set up for this purpose, to see an overall image of how the patient is doing.”
Although the wearable device is currently unable to measure blood oxygenation levels, which is an important component of lung health, the team plans to incorporate this capability in its next round of devices.