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CHEF Talks… Can Technology and Wearable Sensors Change the Course of the COVID-19 Pandemic

Imagine a world where healthcare professionals completed surgical training in a virtual classroom with trainees from across the globe or where having a wearable device from childhood to adulthood to monitor your health became the norm. Our experts agree that the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the use of wearable devices and has quickly scaled technology solutions for public health. Find out what they had to say about how technology is shaping how we will examine health within the next year. 

CHEF Talks… Can Technology and Wearable Sensors Change The Course of The COVID-19 Pandemic
submitted by Tiara Muse, CHEF Chapter Communications Committee Member

There is no question that we have experienced a great amount of uncertainty in recent months when it comes to tracking, tracing, and preventing the spread of COVID-19. With projections of a second wave impacting the nation – technology experts and public health leaders are working more closely now than ever before.

On May 28th former CHEF President, Georgia Casciato led a webinar discussion featuring two experts – Robert Furberg, PhD of RTI International and founding member of Google Health, Zeenat Patrawala. Furberg began the discussion by sharing how wearable devices have grown in popularity in recent years with over 500 different products (i.e., smart bracelet; smart socks; smart glasses) and with more than 260 vendors in the market. There are several wearable devices to measure both physical and biological individual behaviors and those measurements create opportunity for intervention and personalized treatment. He went on to categorize the wearable devices as follows:

Wearable Device Categories
Consumer Effectively unregulated (health and fitness) Self-Directed Low Cost Heavily Processed Data User Feedback
Research Premarket Notification Investigator Directed Higher Cost Raw Data Available Feedback Controls
Clinical Premarket Approval Physician Ordered Highest Cost Raw Data Available May include user feedback

The data is used in many ways depending on the nature of the study. Consumer devices are typically used in observation-based studies, while research grade devices are commonly used in intervention studies and predictive studies often call for clinical devices. In relation to COVID-19, wearable devices were able to trace declines of nearly 50% in physical activity during social distancing across states as stay at home orders were issued. Furberg highlighted the increase in telehealth adoption and regulatory relaxation (i.e. reimbursement) and predicted that within the next 3-6 months we will see a higher use of consumer wearable devices being used in clinical settings as tools for health intervention.

Next, Zeenat Patrawala shared how Google has responded to COVID-19 by launching over 200 new products, features, and initiatives and contributed more than $1 billion in resources (i.e., socializing tools; remote working; mental health). She framed up their efforts in three buckets: Inform > Support > Recover.

She stressed the importance of giving consumers access to credible knowledge sources through partnership with leading authorities such as the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO). They are striving to disseminate accurate public health messaging during times of uncertainty. Google is also leveraging YouTube across different market segments and sectors to provide COVID-19 updates across a variety of audiences. Google has also increased access to technology by supporting wi-fi availability to rural communities and remote workers.

Patrawala was excited to share the innovation Google has brought to the classroom in response to school closures across the nation due to COVID-19. Google has launched Google Classroom and Learn at Home with Youtube, which she mentioned could be modeled in healthcare to scale training in the future. In support of the recovery process, they have also provided mobility reports on contact tracing in over 130 countries to deliver the most appropriate public health recommendations for areas experiencing a high rate of spread. Beyond the technology, Patrawala added that Google has supported PPE production and has helped produce nearly 3 million face masks that were provided to the CDC Foundation.

Casciato connected Patrawala’s use case example from SwipeSense’s (Chicago-based technology integration platform) hand hygiene monitoring in the hospital to the impact of real time data collection and analytics. Patrawala and Furberg ended by discussing the future, “we are living in the future” said Patrawala, Furberg followed by adding that “the data generated from wearable devices will become increasingly clinically relevant and reliable.”

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