Fitbit will be working with the cardiovascular-focused Bristol-Myers Squibb-Pfizer Alliance to develop “educational content and guidance” that will help device owners recognize if they are at risk of atrial fibrillation, as well as to seek appropriate support and diagnosis of the condition.
A spokesperson for the companies noted that although the specifics of these programs are still in development, it will rely on the atrial fibrillation detection feature that Fitbit is still developing for their wearables. Once this algorithm has been fully tested, submitted to the FDA and approved, the partners will be working on user support features that “could include a digital screening program with guidance on next steps after receiving the results of the screening,” the spokesperson said, noting that more specific details on the collaboration’s output will be announced when they are available.
“At Fitbit, we’re focused on making health more accessible and, through our efforts with the BMS-Pfizer Alliance, we have the potential to support earlier detection of atrial fibrillation, a potentially asymptomatic condition that affects millions of Americans,” James Park, cofounder and CEO of Fitbit, said in a statement. “With our continuous, 24-7 on-wrist health tracking capabilities, and our experience delivering personalized, engaging software and services, we believe we can develop content to help bridge the gaps that exist in atrial fibrillation detection, encouraging people to visit their doctor for a prompt diagnosis and potentially reduce their risk of stroke.”
WHY IT MATTERS
This announcement offers two major updates on Fitbit’s long-term plans to compete with Apple and the other smartwatch makers touting onboard ECGs, atrial fibrillation detection and other heart health features.
First are the major names the wearables company is aligning with. Both Bristol-Myers Squibb and Pfizer have considerable clout within the healthcare industry, as well as a wealth of clinical and market data that could likely be of use. While today’s announcement is squarely focused on educational materials and connection to care (which is impactful in its own right), it doesn’t hurt to have a foot in the door with some powerful names.
Second is the tacit affirmation that on-board atrial fibrillation continues to be a point of interest for the company. The past few months have seen Fitbit’s platform become host to third-party apps from Cardiogram and FibriCheck with their own proprietary algorithms, but so far the company still does not have a similar function built into the Fitbit app or devices themselves. Fitbit’s clarification on the terms of today’s partnership sets something of a rough progress update on the features — still in the works, but not yet ready for FDA submission.
THE LARGER TREND
It’s been over a year since Apple announced its upcoming smartwatch would be outfitted with FDA-cleared ECG sensors and detection software, and the time since has seen other digital health and wearable companies respond — whether it be Withings adding ECG features to its upcoming smartwatches, or AliveCor axing its ECG smartwatch band and releasing a six-lead ECG device.
As for Fitbit’s other ventures, last month the company announced new devices and 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. Reports were also circulating just a few weeks later that the wearables maker is investigating a potential sale of its business following a quarter of middling smartwatch sales.
ON THE RECORD
“Too many people discover that they are suffering from atrial fibrillation only after experiencing a stroke. In fact, some studies suggest that this is true for more than 25 percent of people who have the condition,” Dr. Joseph Eid, head of medical affairs at Bristol-Myers Squibb, said in a statement. “These efforts with Fitbit exemplify not only our unwavering commitment to addressing the evolving needs of patients with atrial fibrillation, but also our dedication to advancing care by embracing technology as a part of routine clinical practice.”