Apple Watch and Other Health Tech During Pandemics

As I wrote the other day, I like to look at things in the big picture. As I do that, one thing I’m certain of is something like this will happen again, and it will likely happen sooner than people think. Which got me to thinking, how can health-related technology help play a role in early identification and even protection? Naturally, that got me thinking about Apple Watch.

You may or may not have seen some timely marketing data from a company called Kinsa that makes a smart/connected thermometer. Kinsa positions itself as a public health company dedicated to providing the knowledge, guidance, and tools to keep communities healthy. During this time of COVID-19, they have been using data gathered via randomized and anonymized samples of specific regions in the US to track fevers. They blanket this under their initiative to track Flu-like symptoms in country regions, but since fever is an indicator of worsening symptoms of COVID-19, this works in their favor.

Here, they share a link showing how fevers have varied in certain areas where social distancing was implemented sooner. It is designed to show how places that hunkered down and people groups who limited interaction with others did have an impact on the health of a community.

The challenge with the data is generally high-income class groups, and more tech-forward people are going to have a Kinsa smart thermometer. So while the data is relevant, it is also indicative of a social base who would have hunkered down early and whose employment likely allowed them to do so. It is not totally representative data, but that does not mean it doesn’t prove the right point.

That being said, their motivation is directionally correct and highlights a specific point about how health data can help us detect and even prevent the spread of contagious diseases.

More data and more Sensors
This whole situation has actually got me thinking even more deeply about Apple Watch’s vision as an intelligent guardian of our health. The Apple Watch currently can’t play much a role to help early detection of things like Flu or even a new virus-like COVID-19. But what if it could? There are other sensors we expect to see Apple Watch include, a blood oxygen monitoring via a pulse oximeter is one of them, but what if Apple could figure out how to measure other things, maybe even temperature via the wrist or via the ears/face?

What if AirPods and eventually AR glasses can help monitor vitals in our ears and face that can now detect any range of things as a platform for preventative health? We know the ears offer unique benefits for measuring heart rate and temperature, so that seems possible. But obviously, our eyes are another indicator of health and wellness. I had thought about AirPods as a health platform but not something like AR glasses until today.

What you can see happening is a comprehensive computing solution emerging that is the combination of sensors on wrist, ears, and eyes/face that are not just good for potential computing applications but a much richer solution for health and wellness as well.

Going beyond the benefits of this to a single human, the Kinsa example shows how health-related data tracking is useful for early identification and spread of infectious disease in a community. This would be an opportunity for Apple as well if the sensors are there. Even just looking at the benefits to flu season seems an incredible opportunity.

I can imagine getting a warning that flu-like symptoms are spreading more rapidly in my area and then be encouraged to practice some social distancing while out and about and perhaps be overly rigorous in my personal cleanliness. Although I’m a germaphobe, so I already obsess over hand washing and using hand sanitizer. But many aren’t, and warning and detection can help remind others to be more aware and, in general help slow or stop the spread of something like the Flu.

Going beyond that, I’d love to see how sensors we wear, or use like a Kinsa thermometer, can help detect anomalies earlier and perhaps get the right health organizations early data to start digging into the potential spread of something we don’t see coming. This could be everything from anomalies in a group of people’s heart rate, temperature, oxygen levels, etc.. Still, the point being early detection of something via health sensor data would do wonders for our world going forward.

I’ve been slowly convinced that nearly every person on the planet, in developed parts of the world, will someday wear some health tech on their body. Even if it isn’t a smartwatch, I’m now certain some technology will find itself onto every human that plays a role in health monitoring and preventative health. This current pandemic certainly shines a light on the reality and need for such solutions, but the data is too valuable to us individually and as a community. Particularly when you realize something like this will happen again, and again, and again.

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Ben Bajarin

Ben Bajarin is a Principal Analyst and the head of primary research at Creative Strategies, Inc - An industry analysis, market intelligence and research firm located in Silicon Valley. His primary focus is consumer technology and market trend research and he is responsible for studying over 30 countries. Full Bio

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