Health tech company Fitbit is partnering with the pharmaceutical entity, the Bristol-Myers Squibb-Pfizer Alliance to add new technology to their watches that can detect an irregular heartbeat. The technology detects atrial fibrillation, which is the most common type of irregularity.
“We’re not as healthy as we should be,” said Fitbit CEO and co-founder James Park a few weeks ago at a health summit. “We’re trying to transform ourselves into a behavior-change company to help people manage these more serious conditions,” continued Park. “And ultimately for the health care industry address rising costs as well.”
According to the Center for Disease Control, between 2.1 – 6.7 million individuals in the United States suffer from this condition. AFib, as its called for short, has a variety of symptoms including dizziness, shortness of breath, and heart palpitations. Although, doctors report that a large percentage of patients exhibit no symptoms, and therefore don’t seek medical help in time. That’s where Fitbit’s technology comes in. Although few young people have this disorder, medical professionals estimate that it will affect more than 12 million people by 2030 (as the baby boomer generation continues to age).
“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,” said Park in a previous interview.
Fitbit brought this technology to the European market a few weeks ago, and now they’re working with U.S. companies to make the technology to a new level. Fitbit found themselves lacking last year when the Apple Watch Series 4 released similar technology, ECG monitoring, last December.
Atrial fibrillation is a widespread condition that increases the risk of stroke – very prevalent in individuals over 65, or those who have blood pressure or other heart problems.
“We’re in a new era of healthcare, where we’re not only focused on developing treatments but also looking at the potential of technology and data to help patients learn more about their health,” Angela Hwang, group president of Pfizer’s biopharmaceuticals group, said in a statement. “We are excited about wearables and how our work with BMS and Fitbit may potentially help patients and physicians detect and understand heart rhythm irregularities.”
The Bristol-Myers Squibb-Pfizer Alliance is a joint effort between two biggest pharmaceutical companies to increase awareness of atrial fibrillation and specifically prove the necessary technology to detect this disorder. Apple is also working on a multi-year study with Johnson & Johnson to see if the Apple Watch can diagnose AFib faster than most methods. Both companies are paving the way for greater advancements in health tech.
“When you can run sophisticated data science on it you can understand how to influence people’s behavior and realize exactly what the cost savings are that come out of that,” said Park. “We’re starting to unlock that, and that’s whats sparked a lot of interest from employers, health plans, governments. We just announced something with the government of Singapore where Fitbits will be made available free to 20% of their population, and that’s with the understanding that wearing these devices and understanding that data behind it can have profound impacts on people’s health.”