New Spaulding led 60-Person Task Force publishes study examining the role of mHealth in COVID-19 pandemic
By Tim Sullivan / Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital Communications
(Boston) – A 60-person expert task force organized by the team at the Motion Analysis Laboratory at Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital has published a study entitled “Can mHealth Technology Help Mitigate the Effects of the COVID 19 Pandemic?” in the newest issue of IEEE Open Journal of Engineering in Medicine and Biology. The aim of the study was to review mobile health (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 can be used to predict symptom escalation for earlier intervention.
Paolo Bonato, Ph.D., 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. Bonato is also an Associate Faculty member at Harvard’s Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering.
Telehealth usage and mobile health technologies commonly called mHealth, 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 centers. However, a portion of them eventually experience an exacerbation, namely the sudden occurrence of severe symptoms, and require hospitalization. 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 hospital and other 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.
“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.
The review of these mHealth technologies started within the Diagnostics Direct-To-Consumer Working Group within the Mass General Brigham Center for COVID Innovation, which was established to facilitate the development of new innovations that flatten the COVID-19 curve and protect front line clinical staff. The Working Group is led by Wyss Senior Staff Scientist, Rushdy Ahmad, Ph.D., and the Center for COVID Innovation is co-led by Wyss Core Faculty member, David Walt, Ph.D. Ahmad and Walt are also co-authors of the study.