Author(s): Ben Wood
Yesterday, Fitbit announced it will begin using Google's new Cloud Healthcare API to make data from its devices more accessible to healthcare professionals. The companies plan to work together to innovate and transform the future of digital health and wearables.
Fitbit will adopt Google's new tool to expand its push into healthcare, by connecting wearables user data with electronic medical records. Combining Fitbit data with these records can offer patients and clinicians a more comprehensive view of the patient profile, potentially leading to more personalised care. The companies will also look to help manage chronic conditions like diabetes and hypertension by employing services such as Fitbit's recently acquired Twine Health. With Google's API, Twine can make it easier for medical professionals and patients to collaborate on care, creating better health outcomes and positive returns for employers, providers of health plans and hospitals.
During its 10-year history, Fitbit has worked with healthcare providers, insurers and employers to sell devices that support wellness programmes. The manufacturer is now taking a further step to develop its business-to-business efforts as a way to reduce its dependence on consumer sales of its fitness trackers and smartwatches.
Google's Cloud Healthcare API, announced in March, lets its customers analyse their information and cross-reference it with data from hospitals and other healthcare providers. For example, the Cleveland Clinic, a partner with the Google service, can now tap records from Fitbit users who visit the hospital more readily. Google is hoping that its solution will allow it to meet the security and privacy needs of its clients in the healthcare industry. The company says most of its cloud products comply with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act — a set of privacy standards for protecting patient data from digital and physical intrusion.
Google's capabilities in artificial intelligence and machine learning together with its new predictive analytic algorithms should advance Fitbit's goals of being a respected part of the healthcare ecosystem, rather than just a maker of consumer wearable devices. By relying on Google's platform expertise, Fitbit devices could offer consumers meaningful health-related data and insights.
But the move doesn't come without peril. Fitbit has historically always tried to sustain its own independent platform for health data, notably refusing to integrate with Apple HealthKit, much to the frustration of iPhone users. By teaming up with Google, it risks its data being subsumed into Google's bigger healthcare plans, making it harder for Fitbit to establish itself as an independent health data and analytics platform. This is a strategy that would help mitigate the risks of being highly dependent on wearable devices, which like most hardware products face constant downward price and margin pressure.
It's unclear in the announcement if this closer partnership with Google will see Fitbit being supported on Wear OS (formerly Android Wear) devices. It would be a huge coup for Google to integrate Fitbit capabilities into its operating system, but for Fitbit this could be a double-edged sword. Such a move could provide more data from a broader suite of devices, including smartwatches made by fashion brands like Fossil, which would appeal to a wider audience, but it could also be erosive to Fitbit's efforts to sell more-capable devices with higher margins, such as the Fitbit Ionic.
Fitbit will need to tread carefully with this partnership to ensure it maximises the scale advantages that Google can offer without diluting its own future growth potential.
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