‘Sickbit’ App Aims to Detect Illness 24 Hours in Advance


Move over Fitbit, soon there will be trackable app designed to keep people healthy by telling them in advance when they are getting sick. Scientists hope to develop a wearable app, much like an Apple Watch, that can tell you if you are going to get sick up to a day beforehand.

A team at California’s Stanford University has tested the theory on 43 study participants who volunteered to wear the smartwatch device for 11 months. Using information from wearable health trackers, which monitor heart rate and body temperature, the device can diagnose if individuals are about to fall ill with a cold or flu.

Credit: Maurizio Pesce/Flickr, CC BY 2.0

The team members evaluated 400 wearables and scaled them down to find seven inexpensive ones that were easy to use. They included MOVES which tracks activity and position, Basis smartwatches that monitor steps and sleep, and iHealth Finger which measures blood oxygen levels. Other devices that were used include a Masimo Pulse Ox, RadTarge, Scanadu Scout and a Withings scale.

“We discovered that just as people are starting to get sick, their heart rate and skin temperature go up, and their blood oxygen level goes down,” says project leader and professor Michael Snyder. “Our app gives you a first alert that something is not quite right – because these physiological changes happen before you even notice you are ill.”

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The research, published in the journal PLOS Biology, also cited other health differences that the sick app detected. It showed that the resting heart rate of a person on the verge of illness went up five to ten percent compared to when a person was healthy and their body had normal levels. The device was also able to track more occasions when the heart rate was high.

Snyder believes if most people had a half day notice that illness was imminent, they could better plan for the sickness and ultimately their recovery.

“You might look at your monitor, and it’ll say ‘I think you are coming down with something – perhaps you shouldn’t go out dancing tonight,’” he said. “Stay at home and have chicken soup instead.”

Professor Snyder talks more about the future of wearable apps and disease detection in this video:


The illness detecting wearable app also charted blood oxygen levels that dropped during airline flights, that could help individuals with poor circulation or chronic conditions. The device also aided Snyder in pre-diagnosing a case of infection for himself —because of his combo of elevated heart rate and low blood oxygen levels— that ultimately turned out to be Lyme Disease.

The Stanford study was successful in detecting illnesses in the participants. Eight of the volunteers’ infections were diagnosed, but Snyder cautioned that they would need to conduct larger trials and analyze how accurate those results were.

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This technology could offer great preventative care and benefits for senior care and those who suffer from chronic health issues like diabetes. The device can act as an early warning system for individuals, loved ones and medical professionals.

“I’d like my mum to have one, so I could keep tabs on her health from 3,000 miles away,” said Snyder.

But Snyder says that it would a couple of years before an illness-tracking device app would be available on the market. Currently no FDA-approved medical apps are available for common wearables like smartwatches. Further testing, more trials and additional research would need to be completed before such technology could be considered and used as an actual medical device.