The National Institutes of Health (NIH) recently announced new contracts with seven businesses and academic institutions focusing on digital health innovation. The NIH reviewed nearly 200 ideas for digital health tools before awarding the seven contracts. The contracts will support the creation of wearables, mobile apps, and software solutions that significantly impact the spread of COVID-19 and the health of infected patients.

Two NIH entities, the National Cancer Institute (NCI) and the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering (NIBIB), received congressional funding to develop new technology in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The new contracts represent a commitment to health tech that addresses public health concerns during the ongoing crisis. The seven projects include digital tools for contract tracing, tracking of verified test results, and monitoring the health of patients who test positive as well as potentially-exposed individuals.

For example, Evidation Health will build a platform that analyzes a broad base of data from wearables and self-reporting. An AI and cloud computing platform from physIQ integrates with FDA-cleared wearables to monitor the health of patients who have tested positive for the coronavirus. And Shee Atiká Enterprises, an Alaska Native Corporation, is designing a monitoring system that integrates a Bluetooth thermometer and pulse oximeter explicitly intended for use in medically underserved communities.

Each contract will allow the projects to complete an initial development phase. The NIH will reassess the projects for real-world viability and move forward with a continuing development contract for selected solutions. Awardees must complete both phase one and phase two within one year.

These tools can assist public health officials in containing COVID-19 outbreaks, as well as future large-scale community health threats. Successful containment could allow people to move and interact more freely while preventing dangerous and potentially deadly community spread of the disease.