Using smartwatches to observe changes in activity during recovery from critical illness following COVID-19 critical care. Admission: 1-year, multicenter observational study

A. Hunter, T. Leckie, O. Coe, B. Hardy, D. Fitzpatrick, Ana Carolina Goncalves, M-K. Standing, C. Koulouglioti, A. Richardson, L. Hodgson*

*Corresponding author for this work

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Background: As a sequela of the COVID-19 pandemic, a large cohort of critical illness survivors have had to recover in the context of ongoing societal restrictions.

Objective: We aimed to use smartwatches (Fitbit Charge 3; Fitbit LLC) to assess changes in the step counts and heart rates of critical care survivors following hospital admission with COVID-19, use these devices within a remote multidisciplinary team (MDT) setting to support patient recovery, and report on our experiences with this.

Methods: We conducted a prospective, multicenter observational trial in 8 UK critical care units. A total of 50 participants with moderate or severe lung injury resulting from confirmed COVID-19 were recruited at discharge from critical care and given a smartwatch (Fitbit Charge 3) between April and June 2020. The data collected included step counts and daily resting heart rates. A subgroup of the overall cohort at one site—the MDT site (n=19)—had their smartwatch data used to inform a regular MDT meeting. A patient feedback questionnaire and direct feedback from the MDT were used to report our experience. Participants who did not upload smartwatch data were excluded from analysis.

Results: Of the 50 participants recruited, 35 (70%) used and uploaded data from their smartwatch during the 1-year period. At the MDT site, 74% (14/19) of smartwatch users uploaded smartwatch data, whereas 68% (21/31) of smartwatch users at the control sites uploaded smartwatch data. For the overall cohort, we recorded an increase in mean step count from 4359 (SD 3488) steps per day in the first month following discharge to 7914 (SD 4146) steps per day at 1 year (P=.003). The mean resting heart rate decreased from 79 (SD 7) beats per minute in the first month to 69 (SD 4) beats per minute at 1 year following discharge (P<.001). The MDT subgroup’s mean step count increased more than that of the control group (176% increase vs 42% increase, respectively; +5474 steps vs +2181 steps, respectively; P=.04) over 1 year. Further, 71% (10/14) of smartwatch users at the MDT site and 48% (10/21) of those at the control sites strongly agreed that their Fitbit motivated them to recover, and 86% (12/14) and 48% (10/21), respectively, strongly agreed that they aimed to increase their activity levels over time.

Conclusions: This is the first study to use smartwatch data to report on the 1-year recovery of patients who survived a COVID-19 critical illness. This is also the first study to report on smartwatch use within a post–critical care MDT. Future work could explore the role of smartwatches as part of a randomized controlled trial to assess clinical and economic effectiveness.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere25494
Number of pages11
JournalJMIR Rehabilitation and Assistive Technologies
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2 May 2022


  • COVID-19
  • telemedicine
  • rehabilitation
  • critical illness
  • smartphone
  • digital health
  • mobile health
  • remote therapy
  • device usability


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