The Belgium-based company's app can render heart rhythm irregularity readings in roughly 60 seconds.

FibriCheck's PPG a-fib detection app arrives for Fitbit devices in four EU countries

By Dave Muoio
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Fitbit and Belgium-based FibriCheck announced today that device owners living in certain UK countries now have access to a smartwatch app that uses photoplethysmography (PPG) to detect heart rhythm irregularities such as atrial fibrillation.

Available in Belgium, the UK, the Netherlands and Ireland, the CE-marked tool is similar to FibriCheck’s smartphone app in that it uses light and sensors to observe blood flow rates and, subsequently runs these readings through an algorithm to determine the user’s heart rhythm.

After roughly 60 seconds, these measurements can be displayed as a simple color-coded result on the screen of the smartwatch or through as a more detailed report via a paired smartphone app. Additionally, results can also be shared with medical professionals through a supported web interface.

The companies said in their announcement that the smartwatch app’s bid for CE marking included a trial comparing it to a 12-lead ECG and single-lead ECG. Similar to FibriCheck’s smartphone app, the company said that the investigation found the algorithm to be “highly accurate in detecting the presence of [atrial fibrillation] when compared to ECG.”

“FibriCheck is the first CE-marked app to be available on Fitbit smartwatches in the EU and its addition to the platform complements our expanding range of technology-based solutions that can help drive positive health outcomes,” Nicola Maxwell, director of health solutions and services for EMEA for Fitbit, said in a statement.

The app will come at the cost of a €3.99 monthly subscription, with a free one-day trial. The app can be downloaded through Fitbit’s app storefront for use with the Fitbit Versa, Fitbit Versa Lite Edition, Fitbit Versa 2 and Fitbit Ionic.

WHY IT MATTERS

Fitbit is facing stiff competition in the wearables market, especially as its more mainstream competitors continue to encroach on its health and wellness niche. Apple, Withings and others in particular have touted the onboard ECG hardware of their latest devices as a vital feature for those looking to monitor their cardiovascular health.

Since Fitbit’s devices don’t carry the sensors required for an ECG, an alternative approach reporting similar atrial fibrillation detection capabilities is a clear counterpunch for the company.

“FibriCheck is an easy-to-use, first step for people who have concerns about their heart health or who have been advised to monitor their heart rhythm consistently by a medical professional,” Lars Grieten, CEO of FibriCheck, said in a statement. “By partnering with Fitbit, we are bringing our technology to millions of consumers’ wrists regardless of mobile device platform, and it provides an accessible option for consumers to better understand their heart health and then easily share those insights with a medical professional who can support their care.”

THE LARGER TREND

It’s only been a few months since Fitbit unleashed Cardiogram’s heart rate monitoring software on its smartwatch devices. That app similarly purports to helping identify cases of atrial fibrillation, as well as hypertension and sleep apnea.

More recently, the wearables maker also announced plans for a premium health tracking subscription available to its users. Called Fitbit Premium, the data-driven health tracking program devises personalized health and wellness plans, offers “thousands” of video and audio workouts, social features and coaching within a single app.

For its part, FibriCheck’s core smartphone algorithm has held a CE mark since 2016, but a bit less than a year ago secured a 510(k) clearance from the US FDA as well. At the time, the company said it was targeting 2019 for a proper release in the US.

ON THE RECORD

“For more than a decade, Fitbit has helped millions of consumers around the world get healthier by providing them with a holistic picture of their health and wellness,” Maxwell said. “Our partnership with FibriCheck expands on this vision by offering an accessible way for people to detect irregular heart rhythms using their Fitbit smartwatch, helping them to potentially identify and monitor heart conditions like atrial fibrillation.”