Correction: This article has been updated to accurately reflect that the women health tracking is a feature. It has also been updated to reflect Katherine Binder's accurate title.
Last week Fitbit made a slew of announcements about new product launches that coming in the spring. Among them was a true first for the company: a feature that helps women track their menstrual cycles and symptoms.
MobiHealthNews spoke with a product marketing manager and advisor on the evolution of this product and what it could mean for the future of women’s health in Fitbit.
While the idea for this health feature was born out of results from a survey that Fitbit sends users every year, it was still inline with the company’s focus on the health space (recently highlighted by CEO James Park in the company’s fourth quarter earnings call).
“The company over the last year, year and a half has really been trying to push more into the health space … part of that is how we bring more health oriented solutions to our regular consumers,” Katherine Binder, Fitbit's senior product marketing manager, told MobiHealthNews. “So [the women’s tracking app] really does have nice way of feeding in our cooperate strategy of focusing more on health. But also it is something we heard from our consumers that they really want. We conduct an annual survey for Fitbit users. Among women, period tracking falls consistently as one of the top five requested features.”
The new feature will connect to any Fitbit product including trackers, the Fitbit Smartwatch Ionic, and the Fitbit Smartwatch Versa, which will also be launching in the spring. Women will be able to log data about each of their periods including the time, symptoms, and flow. The app will then give women predictions about when their next period and fertile window will occur.
“Women have a hard time remembering all the nuances from cycle to cycle, how long or the timing of various symptoms,” Dr. Katherine White, who advised Fitbit on the app and is also an assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Boston University, told MobiHealthNews. “So [the app] can let her store all of that in one place.”
White said she asks women every day "when was your last period?" but it's seldom that patients can answer off the top of their head.
“The second thing is, it helps women have a better conversation and to be able to track so they can get answers to other questions,” White said.
The new feature doesn’t connect to EHRs or physicians, but women will have the data in their phone if they want to show doctors at their appointments.
The feature also gives users resources to learn more about their menstrual cycle. White, one of the experts who authored these, said that in her practice many women apologize for asking what they call "silly questions" about their periods, but without the benefits of a medical education she stressed that it is normal to have questions. In fact, she said on a Fitbit survey, 70 percent of women didn’t know how long their menstrual cycle lasted.
White said the feature could be useful for women who have started a new birth control and are monitoring the impacts that it has on their bodies. Right now, the feature does track ovulation as part of a woman’s cycle as a whole, but it isn’t marketed as a fertility tracking tool.
“We really do want to have a platform where women can store their health data and see how that is related to other Fitbit health information and start to understand their body more. One of those pieces in the menstrual cycle is ovulation, so we want to include that in there,” Binder said. “But in respect to specifically developing a tool for women who are trying to conceive, it is something we are going to look out for [in the future]. Part of the beauty of software launches like this is we will release it into the wild. People will come and we will get a lot smarter about our users and what they are using it for and what they want and need, and when we get that information that will inform our upcoming product strategy.”
Fitbit appears to be looking closer at the female user audience from a hardware design perspective as well. Several outlets have commented that the new Versa’s smaller size and different colors are an attempt by the company to increase their device's appeal to a larger audience, namely women.
“It has always been our corporate mission, [and] has been ours for over a decade, to make everyone healthier,” Binder said. “If you look at the smartwatch category for ownership it is roughly 60 percent male. ... The smartwatch category is going to double in the next three years, so when we look at that group and the demographic … we have an opportunity to launch a mass market smartwatch she would actually want to buy and simultaneously, we have the opportunity to service [nearly] half of our user base, women, with female health tracking.”