Tech Shortcuts for Life

How Your Fitbit Could Help You Detect Certain Covid Symptoms

Data on your wrist is helpful, but always consult your doctor if you feel sick

Thomas Smith
Debugger
Published in
8 min readFeb 8, 2021

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Animation by Julia Moburg for Debugger

Tech Shortcuts for Life is a weekly column from Thomas Smith on Debugger exploring the apps, automations, gadgets, and other tech tricks that can make your life more efficient.

Early in the pandemic, I predicted that Fitbit would put its ubiquitous fitness trackers to work to predict whether users might be getting Covid-19. It turns out I was right.

On May 27, Fitbit began enrolling users in a study that aimed to correlate Fitbit sensor data with Covid-19 infections. The company recruited 30,529 users for the study, which ran through September 2020. Fitbit published its results in the journal npj Digital Medicine in November.

Fitbit found that it could predict up to 43% of Covid-19 cases the day after patients experienced symptoms, using sensor data alone. They could even predict nearly a quarter of cases one day before users experienced obvious physical symptoms. The company also found that the severity of symptoms and sensor data correlated with the need for hospitalization, allowing Fitbit to predict which patients would need medical support to make it through the illness.

Fitbit found that it could predict up to 43% of Covid-19 cases the day after patients experienced symptoms, using sensor data alone.

But here’s the best part about the study: It showed that Fitbit could predict Covid-19 infections using data that is already available to users of the company’s Fitbit Premium service. If you have a modern Fitbit and subscribe to Premium, you don’t need some fancy, proprietary algorithm to spot a potential infection. You can open your Fitbit app right now, eyeball your data, and determine whether you might be getting sick. The technique presumably works with illnesses other than Covid-19, too — a quick look at your Fitbit data could potentially show you if you’re getting a cold, flu, or another disease.

Before we get started, let’s make one thing clear: If you have any symptoms of Covid-19…

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