Study looks at COVID-era mobile health applications

By Jenni Spinner contact

- Last updated on GMT

(metamorworks/iStock via Getty Images)
(metamorworks/iStock via Getty Images)

Related tags: Wearables, Decentralized trials, Clinical research, COVID-19, Coronavirus

Led by the Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital, a study by a 60-person task force shows ways mobile health tech can help mitigate the pandemic’s effects.

With COVID-19 causing unprecedented interruptions in research, many life-sciences professionals are wondering how mobile health technologies, such as wearable devices, might be able to help enhance and continue their work. One recent research project sought to examine specific ways such technologies could be put to use to help minimize the pandemic’s impact.

A task force consisting of five dozen life-sciences experts, organized by the Motion Analysis Laboratory at Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital, has published “Can mHealth Technology Help Mitigate the Effects of the COVID 19 Pandemic?” Appearing in the IEEE Open Journal of Engineering in Medicine and Biology, the aim of the research was to examine mobile health (mHealth) technologies and explore potential ways such technologies could be harnessed to monitor and mitigate the effects of the pandemic.

The task force pinpointed various mHealth technologies that could be deployed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and that also could be suitable for use in the face of future pandemics. Additionally, the study reports mHealth technologies could prove to be viable options to monitor COVID-19 patients, and to predict symptom escalation for earlier intervention.

Paolo Bonato, director of the Spaulding Motion Analysis Lab and lead author of the study, said, “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.”

Outsourcing-Pharma (OSP) recently spoke with Bonato (PB) and Geoffrey Gill (GG), president of wearable technology specialist Shimmer Americas, about the study and what it might reveal about the future of mHealth.

OSP: Could you please tell us how the task force came to be?

PB: In March, as MA was entering the lockdown period, I discussed with Dr. David Walt (one of the Co-Directors of the MGB Center for COVID Innovation​) the possibility of launching activities with focus on the potential use of mHealth technology to mitigate the effects of COVID-19; we are both affiliated with MGB​ (formerly Partners Healthcare) and the Wyss Institute​.

A decision was made to pursue the combination of direct to consumer testing technology and mHealth technology. I then started to work with Dr. Rushdy Ahmad who took the lead on the activities of the Center in the area of direct to consumer solutions, with emphasis on testing technologies. Then, I invited an international group of colleagues with expertise in mHealth to join the Task Force.

Over the past two decades, I’ve been an active member of IEEE EMBS​ and have served on technical committees (including the technical committee on wearable biomedical sensors and systems) and as VP for Publications. Hence, I was in a unique position to involve international members of IEEE EMBS to contribute to the task force. In addition, I invite colleagues from clinical sites and industry with special emphasis on individuals with expertise in mHealth.

OSP: What are some of the most noteworthy or surprising findings the task force came up with?

PB: The main outcomes of the task force’s work are:

  1. physiological changes (that one could track over time using mHealth technology) in individuals who tested positive for COVID-19 could be utilized to predict the likelihood of an exacerbation; in other terms, they could help us to determine if complications are likely to arise
  2. in individuals presumed healthy, mHealth technology could provide valuable information to detect exposure (digital contact tracing) and subtle physiological changes (detected using wearable sensors) potentially associated with COVID-19
  3. information gathered using mHealth technology could be utilized to prioritize testing in individuals who are more likely to be affected by COVID-19.

OSP: How do you expect the information in the study will be put to use in the research community?

PB: Members of the task force are exploring opportunities for deployment of mHealth in different areas of the world. So, stay tuned…

OSP: How generally has use of telehealth and mobile health technologies evolved in clinical research?

GG: Telehealth and mobile technologies are being integrated into clinical research at an increasingly rapid rate. We are starting to move from pilot studies to full scale studies.

OSP: How did the arrival of COVID-19 on the scene impact that trajectory?

GG: The COVID-19 pandemic has dramatically increased the interest in remote clinical research in order to limit the exposure of both patients and researchers. Telehealth and mobile technologies are playing a key role in enabling remote research.

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