Fitbit becomes HIPAA-compliant, signs Target, unveils large-scale challenge feature

By Jonah Comstock
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Fitbit's Corporate Wellness arm officially became a HIPAA compliant platform, announced Target as a new client, which will offer Fitbits to its 335,000 US employees, and showed off a new software offering that will facilitate fitness competitions among employees in large, distributed companies.

Fitbit Wellness has been around almost since the beginning, but is lately one of the fastest growing parts of the company, according to Fitbit Wellness Vice President and General Manager Amy McDonough. She describes the HIPAA audit, which Fitbit sought voluntarily, as a "proactive step" that will broaden Fitbit's options for who they can work with and what they can do.

"We have gone through a third-party audit and we are now HIPAA compliant as an organization," she told MobiHealthNews. "So we complied with the HIPAA safeguards, which are the best practices. And what that enables us to do is, with our Fitbit Wellness customers, we will be able to sign business associate agreements, and work with covered entities, so those are primarily self-insured employers, health plans, and corporate wellness organizations. We'll be able to more deeply integrate and partner with some of these organizations to be able to have more effective and more engaging wellness programs."

2013's HIPAA Omnibus law extended HIPAA liability from just healthcare providers, health plans, and self-insured employers to include all the business associates that covered entities work with, which might also deal with sensitive health information. When Fitbit partners with a health plan or self-insured employer, it signs a business associate agreement, so this change allows Fitbit to work more easily with HIPAA-covered groups.

Fitbit Wellness already sought employee permission to share data like steps and active minutes with employers -- Donough stressed the company's commitment to safety, privacy, and active consent in data sharing. But HIPAA doesn't cover that data anyway.

"HIPAA compliance is very specific to how data is being used, and specifically around PHI and health information," she said. "That's not the information we share or create today, but it will become important as we continue to grow."

The Target deal will allow Target employees to get a free Fitbit Zip or to get a more expensive Fitbit device subsidized by the company. Target will work with Fitbit Wellness on not just the devices, but also the backend software that allows corporate to compare the activity of different employee populations and run challenges and competitions that encourage employees to move more. Target will launch one such competition where teams of Target employees will compete for a $1 million donation to a charity of their choice.

McDonough said Target is one of the larger deployments for Fitbit, which also works with 50 Fortune 500 companies including BP, Bank of America, and Time Warner. It's also significant because it's a widely distributed employee population, which is a particular area where Fitbit believes it can add value.

On that note, Fitbit also unveiled a new feature for its corporate wellness customers today, a large-scale mobile challenge that will allow groups of employees based in different cities to compete with one another.

"It's called Workplace Race, and all Fitbit Wellness customers will have access to that, where they’ll be able to then engage in a team-based competition," McDonough said. "So Boston can compete with San Francisco over a four-week period, and hopefully that becomes the watercooler conversation and it can really be built into the culture of the organization."

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