Are we living in a science fiction novel? It looks like those Star Wars-like medical care where a robot repairs and replacing a hand may not be far off as the Department of Defense works on technology that may help determine if service members will get sick.
The Defense Innovation Unit, or DIU, partnered with the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) to create a wearable device that was successful in identifying hospital-acquired COVID-19 infections. The project is called the Rapid Assessment of Threat Exposure, or RATE, program. The device utilized an artificial intelligence algorithm trained in data from hospitals in regard to the COVID-19 illness. Per the Scientific Report published in Nature, the device was first utilized among active duty military members in June of 2020, and the protocols were reviewed by the Clinical Investigation Department Naval Medical Center San Diego, Air Force Research Laboratory Wright-Patterson Air Force Base Ohio, and Stanford University Investigational Review Board.
The RATE research utilized a Garmin watch, Oura Ring and Empatica E4 wristband to monitor the subject’s heart rate, inter-beat interval, respiration rate, pulse oximetry, skin temperature, and accelerometer date. The Oura rings were fitted based on the subject’s preference. The devices were worn every day, and no tracking information was transmitted per the DOD’s guidelines.
In addition to wearing the device, study subjects submitted a daily survey and COVID-19 testing through rapid testing at military and civilian facilities. This data was utilized to determine if the device could predict infection before it occurred. The predictive model was utilized with Python code over the 10-month study period.
As of April 2021, a total of 9, 381 people had enrolled. Of these, 7,458 were male, 1,922 were female, and one was unknown. Of the subjects, 491 reported a positive COVID-19 illness during the 10-month period. The programming had a 60% sensitivity of predicting the illness, further stating the RATE score utilized to determine illness increased (demonstrating possible illness) as early as 6 days prior to the COVID testing.
Could this be the future of healthcare in the military? The key focus of military service is workforce readiness. Every year, military members have physical and combat fitness testing in addition to pistol qualifications. This readiness ability could be affected by potential illness, especially with illnesses like COVID-19 that had mandates to stay home for up to 14 days during part of the pandemic.
The RATE device did prove to be useful in predicting COVID-19 illness. The translatability to other illnesses is yet to be determined. Additional funding has been allotted for further studies of wearable technology to predict not only COVID-19 but also other infections. The Food and Drug Administration has determined that this device is a general wellness device. We shall see what further studies show with this new technology. Will this be the Minority Report for illness? Time will tell.