2020 challenged all of us in so many ways. As professionals, as parents, and as people simply trying to ensure our loved ones were safe and supported. And as part of an organization dedicated to health and wellness, I recognized the stakes couldn’t have been higher for our work. In responding to the pandemic, Fitbit leaned into our core belief that health belongs to everyone and our mission to make everyone in the world healthier.
From the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, we felt a strong sense of responsibility to use our expertise to support the global community in the fight against the virus. We challenged ourselves to respond quickly with purpose and innovation and made significant strides in three key areas: advancing illness detection through wearables, supporting employers and the broader healthcare ecosystem and powering health and wellness through digital innovation.
Advancing illness detection through wearables
First, recognizing the opportunity to explore the potential of wearables to address the world’s most pressing health challenge, COVID-19, we collaborated with The Scripps Research Institute and Stanford Medicine to establish a research consortium to accelerate studies on how wearables might aid in early illness detection and help predict the onset of infectious diseases such as the flu and COVID-19.
Building on these efforts, we launched our own COVID-19 study, seeking to determine whether Fitbit could build an algorithm to detect the virus before symptoms start. Over 187,000 people signed up for the study. Our findings, which were published [nature.com] in Nature Journal, npj Digital Medicine, showed that breathing rate, resting heart rate and heart rate variability are all useful metrics for indicating the onset of illness. This is important because people can transmit the virus before they realize they have symptoms or when they have no symptoms at all.
As it’s clear that our bodies may signal impact from the disease before more noticeable symptoms appear, we expanded our portfolio of partners around the globe to advance this critical research. In addition, we were selected by the U.S. Army Medical Research and Development Command to receive nearly $2.5 million from the U.S. Department of Defense through a Medical Technology Enterprise Consortium (MTEC) award to advance development of a wearable diagnostic capability for the early detection of a COVID-19 infection. As part of the award, we are planning to initiate a prospective study with Northwell Health’s Feinstein Institutes for Medical Research to further validate our COVID-19 early detection algorithm and we’re continuing to work on how we might use certain metrics to help users be aware of their health, whether it’s the onset of a cold, COVID-19 or other types of illness in the future.
Supporting employers and the broader healthcare ecosystem
Then, to help employers support employees and help prevent workplace spread of COVID-19 by informing decisions on returning to work safely, we created the Fitbit Ready for Work solution. The solution provides access to key health metrics, as well as symptom and temperature logging, all within an easy-to-use, in-app Daily Check-In feature that gives employees guidance to help them decide whether to go to work or stay home. In addition, we provided access to resources and guidance to support the ongoing mental and emotional health needs of employees during this uncertain and challenging time.
After seeing an urgent need for ventilators around the globe at the start of the pandemic, we drew on our deep expertise across advanced sensor technology, robotics, signal processing, supply chain logistics and hardware design to create Fitbit Flow, an easy-to-use, low-cost emergency resuscitator. The device received Emergency Use Authorization from the FDA for use during the COVID-19 pandemic.
We also made strides in promoting healthier communities through population-based efforts, including new collaborations with health plans such as Moda Health, an insurer serving members in the Pacific Northwest and Alaska, to provide their members with holistic health support through Fitbit devices and programs. Also, Regence, an insurer with approximately 3.1 million members across four states in the Pacific Northwest, is now offering our Ready for Work program to its members to help respond to this health crisis. We also worked with our health plan partners to deliver individual care kits to seniors to help them take care of their health throughout the pandemic.
Powering health and wellness through digital innovation
COVID-19 made staying healthy challenging, making it more important than ever to focus on all aspects of our day-to-day health. Heart disease continues to be the leading cause of death worldwide, despite being one of the most preventable conditions. Amidst the pandemic, we launched The Fitbit Heart Study, which was our first large-scale study to validate an algorithm to identify atrial fibrillation (AFib). The study, conducted entirely virtually, is part of Fitbit’s efforts to make health tools more accessible and reduce the risk of life-threatening events like stroke. We enrolled over 450,000 participants!
It’s also important to note that while a lot of our efforts are focused on physical health, we also know the impact this pandemic has had on our emotional and mental well-being. We’ve supported our community in staying physically active and mentally well by offering a free 90-day trial of our Fitbit Premium service, which provides access to guided programs, hundreds of workouts and mindfulness content, while also offering resources from the World Health Organization through our app.
During a year that was arguably the most stressful in recent memory for many of us, Fitbit advanced its sensor technology to find new ways to help people better manage the stress in their lives. Through an electrodermal activity (EDA) sensor available on the Fitbit Sense, our most advanced health smartwatch launched this year, we can detect small electrical changes on the skin, which may indicate the body’s response to stress. Also available on Fitbit Sense is our electrocardiogram (ECG) app* to assess heart rhythm for signs of atrial fibrillation (AFib), a condition that affects more than 33.5 million people globally. We received both FDA and European clearance for this feature earlier this year.
This year has led to amazing innovations across numerous fields and industries. While we all welcome the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines, we know the hard work isn’t over and we will need to continue to be innovative and resilient as we make our way through. The pandemic has underscored the critical role that Fitbit can play in providing people with much needed support throughout the COVID-19 crisis and beyond. It’s also clear that employers and health plans will continue to focus on solutions that provide employees and members with tools to help proactively manage their health and wellness while also providing a meaningful user experience that fits into everyday life. At Fitbit, we remain committed to making the world a healthier place in 2021 and ongoing, helping to make the invisible, visible and unlocking more information about our bodies so we can take better control of our health and wellness.
*The Fitbit ECG app is only available in select countries. Not intended for use by people under 22 years old. See fitbit.com/ecg for additional details.