Apple Watch, Fitbit could help patients track long-term COVID-19 recovery

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Early research suggests that wearables like the Fitbit or Apple Watch could help track patient data as they recover from long-term side effects of COVID-19.

A study published on Wednesday in the JAMA Network Open, seen by The New York Times, showed that Fitbit or Apple Watch data displayed physiological and behavioral changes that could last weeks or months after a coronavirus diagnosis.

According to the study, the symptoms lasted longer for people who had COVID-19 than those with other respiratory diseases. Again, the wearables factor in because the data suggests they can be a reliable way of tracking long-term effects of COVID-19 and other illnesses.

"This was an interesting study, and I think it's important. Wearable devices offer an ability for us to be able to monitor people unobtrusively over long periods of time to see in an objective way — how really has the virus affected them?" said Dr. Robert Hirten, a wearables expert at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. He was not involved in the study.

The trial results are from the Digital Engagement and Tracking for Early Control and Treatment study, carried out by researchers from the Scripps Research Translational Institute in La Jolla, California.

The study looked at more than 37,000 participants between March 25, 2020, and January 24, 2021. Participants downloaded an app and agreed to share their wearable device data and used it to report symptoms and COVID-19 test results.

In addition to corroborating evidence that wearable devices could help track health metrics and disease recovery, the study also provided scientists some insights into the lingering effects of a COVID-19 infection, which has been termed "long COVID."

According to the study, common long-term side effects of COVID-19 included an elevated heart rate. On average, it took 79 days for participants who had COVID to return to a normal heart rate. However, those who had other respiratory illnesses only took four days to return to an average heart rate.

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