Study published in the IEEE Open Journal of Engineering in Medicine and Biology identified technologies which could be used in response to COVID-19 and future pandemics.

NUI Galway professor of medical device technology and consultant physician University Hospital Galway, Professor Derek O’Keeffe, is among a 60-person expert task force organised by the team at the Harvard Motion Analysis Laboratory at Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital to examine the role of mobile health (mHealth) technologies in the COVID-19 pandemic.

Professor Derek O'Keeffe

The study, ‘Can mHealth Technology Help Mitigate the Effects of the COVID-19 Pandemic?’ was published in the IEEE Open Journal of Engineering in Medicine and Biology recently.

Monitor and mitigate effects

The aim of the study was to review mHealth technologies and explore their use to monitor and mitigate the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Task Force identified technologies that could be deployed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and would likely be suitable for future pandemics.

They found that mHealth technologies are viable options to monitor COVID-19 patients and be used to predict symptom escalation for earlier intervention.

Prof O’Keeffe said: "Digital health technology, which has shown tremendous promise for many years, is now ready to be a major tool in helping us to manage the COVID-19 pandemic.

"In this comprehensive study, we reviewed the full spectrum of mHealth systems and research enabling us to identify both what can be used to address COVID-19 now and also in the future.

Diagnostic triage

"The research focussed on all aspects of COVID-19 care from using novel technologies to help improve diagnostic triage to the physiological monitoring of field hospital patients and front line workers using wearable sensors and AI tools.

"The alarming growth of COVID-19 cases has highlighted the shortcomings of healthcare systems, governmental policies, and wider societal issues. Therefore in this important research work we have developed a framework to rapidly assess digital health solutions to help the public, patients and clinicians to deal with this pandemic.

"Clinically we have divided our findings into the distinct domains of preventative, acute and recovery care. Our approach gives authorities an evidence based toolbox to implement state of the art remote patient and frontline worker vital sign monitoring solutions.

"In addition we outline the ideal criteria and examples of both occupational and general public contact tracing solutions, such as the recent HSE COVID-19 Tracker App."

Effective interventions

Paolo Bonato, PhD, director of the Spaulding Motion Analysis Lab, was the lead author on the study. “To be able to activate a diverse group of experts with such a singular focus speaks to the commitment the entire research and science community has in addressing this pandemic. Our goal is to quickly get important findings into the hands of the clinical community so we continue to build effective interventions,” said Dr Bonato.

Telehealth usage and mHealth technologies has gained the attention of the public at large. While telehealth has allowed patients to stay connected for ongoing appointments and check-ins, wearable mHealth technologies provide a significant opportunity for data collection and mHealth technology could be used to monitor patients with mild symptoms who have tested positive for COVID-19.

These patients are typically instructed to self-quarantine at home or undergo monitoring at community treatment centres. However, a portion of them eventually experience an exacerbation, namely the sudden occurrence of severe symptoms, and require hospitalisation.

In this context, mHealth technology could enable early detection of such exacerbations, allowing clinicians to deliver necessary interventions in a timely manner thus improving clinical outcomes.

The Task Force paper concluded that Smartphone applications enabling self-reports and wearable sensors enabling physiological data collection could be used to monitor clinical personnel and detect early signs of an outbreak in the hospital/healthcare settings.

They also reported similarly, in the community, early detection of COVID-19 cases could be achieved by building upon prior studies which showed that by using wearable sensors to capture resting heart rate and sleep duration it is possible to predict influenza-like illness rates as well as COVID-19 epidemic trends.

Several telemedicine options

Prof O’Keeffe added: "Practically we have identified several telemedicine options for the provision of chronic clinical care using state of the art wearable physiological sensors.

"We have also looked to the future horizon at emerging mHealth technology solutions (e.g. robotics) to establish what new techniques we could harness to improve our management COVID-19. Finally we have highlighted the importance of cross platform data integration, AI tools and privacy issues to ensure the use of optimum mHealth solutions."

“The better data and tracking we can collect using mHealth technologies can help public health experts understand the scope and spread of this virus and most importantly hopefully help more people get the care they need earlier. Our hope is to build on more studies from here and continue to expand our understanding,” said Bonato

Individuals can visit to learn more about the Motion Analysis Laboratory at Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital.