Managing Epidemics with Consumer Wearables


Managing Epidemics with Consumer Wearables aims to establish an ethical approach for public health stakeholders to respond to pandemics using insights derived from consumer wearable devices.

The Challenge

Using behavioral and physiological data from consumer Internet of Things (IoT) devices such as smart watches and fitness trackers to diagnose or predict health outcomes is a rapidly evolving field of research. Programs established by technology companies provide a critical pathway for researchers to access these datasets; however, public health officials are generally not aware of, nor able to access, insights derived from wearables to aide their fight against COVID-19. Furthermore, providing authorities with these insight raises critical questions on proper use and the potential for unintended impact.

The Opportunity

Recently published research and ongoing studies have highlighted the potential for using consumer wearables to identify flu-like symptoms in individuals. 1 in 5 adults in the US wears a smart watch or fitness tracker and over 170 million smart watches or wristbands were shipped globally in 2019, creating the opportunity for epidemiologists to track outbreaks of infectious diseases in real-time. To unlock this potential the World Economic Forum is partnering with public health authorities, researchers and technology companies. The outcome of this partnership will be a governance system that provides health authorities with safe, aggregated and anonymized insights on biomarkers such as changes in heart rates, activity and sleep patterns to spot emerging COVID-19 hotspots. The governance system will be co-designed by stakeholders through a design sprint and a workshop series to address critical public health needs while addressing challenges regarding safety, security, privacy, equity and trust.


Equipping epidemiologists with real-time insights on changes in community health will enable better allocation of scarce resources in response to COVID-19. The governance system could also empower technology companies and health authorities to provide consumers with more bespoke information during public health crises – mitigating potential suffering as well as unnecessary economic and social costs. Innovation in wearables continues to push the boundaries of consumer health and device sales are growing at 20% per year globally with emerging markets leading way (e.g. China experienced 40% growth in wearable shipments in 2019). Insights from this technology will become an ever more attractive tool to curtail public health crisis. It is critical that we work together to shape how that will be realized for responding to COVID-19 and future epidemics.

Key Dates

  • April 2020: Project kick-off workshop “How can wearables help save lives in a pandemic?” to establish a common understanding between wearables companies, public health authorities and researchers and identify the key questions to be investigated.

  • April 2020: Multi-stakeholder design sprint with project community to identify potential solutions to the key questions identified in the kick-off workshop.

  • May 2020: “Co-Designing a Collaboration and Governance Model for COVID-19 and beyond” workshop to review the findings of the design sprint.

  • Summer 2020: Managing Epidemics with Consumer Wearables Pilot Program proof-of-concept in a specific city or region.

  • Autumn / Winter 2020: Subject to the findings of the initial pilot program, work with the global public health community to scale the governance framework globally.

How to engage

  • Project Community: Nominate experts, policymakers or senior executives to help guide the initiative by providing regular input via interviews and workshop participation.

  • Fellow: Nominate an individual from your organization to work full or part time with the Forum to join the design sprint team and play an integral role in shaping this initiative.

This project is led by the Platform for Shaping the Future of IoT, Robotics and Smart Cities as part of the World Economic Forum’s Data for Common Purpose Initiative. For more information or to get involved, please email