Northwestern University Partners To Create Wearable for Tracking COVID-19 Symptoms

Researchers at Northwestern University have partnered to create a wearable device that can track key COVID-19 symptoms when patients discharge from the hospital to their home.

The University researchers are working with the Chicago-based Shirley Ryan AbilityLab, a  translational research hospital in which clinicians, scientists and technologists work to bring research in physical medicine and rehabilitation to patients.

The device, which was designed in an engineering lab at Northwestern, uses specialized algorithms created by AbilityLab scientists. It builds on technology created to monitor patients recovering from strokes developed by a team led by Arun Jayaraman, a research scientist at the AbilityLab who is leading algorithm development for the COVID wearable project.

Jarayaman’s team is working with the lab run by John Rogers, head of the Querrey Simpson Institute for Bioelectronics at Northwestern’s McCormick School of Engineering.

Prior to starting work on the COVID wearable, teams run by Jarayaman and Rogers had developed technology measuring vibratory signatures from the throat and chest precisely in an effort to help treat swallowing and speech disorders caused by strokes. After publishing a paper describing this technology, the two were hit with a barrage of requests and questions from the medical community suggesting that this technology could be used to battle COVID-19.

The new wearable is designed to catch early signs and symptoms associated with COVID­-19 such as coughing intensity and patterns, chest wall movements indicative of breathing challenges, respiratory sounds, heart rate, and body temperature. Researchers also plan to add the ability to measure blood oxygenation levels to future iterations of the technology.

When it begins to collect data, the device will transmit that data to a HIPAA-compliant cloud. Once there, related algorithms create graphical summaries of the data which clinicians can use for remote monitoring.

Going forward, researchers hope to build on his capabilities. For example, they envision a time when these devices could help quantify which proposed treatments are likely to be more effective at eliminating coughing symptoms. The researchers also hope to differentiate COVID-related symptoms caused by, say, respiratory allergies.

“As the algorithms become smarter, our hope is that it will begin to discriminate among which coughs are COVID-like and which are from something more benign,” said Jarayaman,

Researchers at the AbilityLab are currently studying the use of these devices among COVID-19 patients and the healthcare workers treating them. Earlier this month, about 25 affected patients began to be monitored using the devices, both in the clinic and at home. The researchers have accumulated more than 1500 hours of monitoring and more than a terabyte of data.

The partners have launched a new company, Sonica Health, which will manage development and promote commercial deployment of the device.

About the author

Anne Zieger

Anne Zieger

Anne Zieger is a healthcare journalist who has written about the industry for 30 years. Her work has appeared in all of the leading healthcare industry publications, and she's served as editor in chief of several healthcare B2B sites.