Is Fitbit a Digital Health Solution?

Posted on January 6, 2016 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the HealthcareScene.com blog network which currently consists of 10 blogs containing over 8000 articles with John having written over 4000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 16 million times. John also manages Healthcare IT Central and Healthcare IT Today, the leading career Health IT job board and blog. John is co-founder of InfluentialNetworks.com and Physia.com. John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can also be found on Twitter: @techguy and @ehrandhit and LinkedIn.

As I’ve been making the rounds of Digital Health at CES (technically the show officially starts today), I’ve run into an extraordinary amount of digital health sensors and tracking devices. Some of them are me too copycats of the already flooded fitness trackers. Others are doing really incredible stuff around ecg, muscle mass, respiratory, heart rate, and much more.

One conversation that I’ve had multiple times is that Fitbit and Fitness trackers like it really aren’t a digital health solution. This isn’t really said as a knock to Fitbit. Almost always this statement is proceeded by a comment about how Fitbit has done some really great things. However, the question really revolves around whether Fitbit is a healthcare application or whether it’s just a fun consumer device.

There’s no argument that Fitbit has been extremely successful. It’s also created mainstream interest in tracking your health. As a consumer application it’s been a big hit. The numbers don’t lie. However, many would equate what it’s accomplished in healthcare to something like the Wii Fit as opposed to something that impacts clinical care like a medical device. It’s more of a game that provides some health benefits than it is a clinical device. I even heard one person take it as far as to compare it to running shoes. If you did a study, running shoes probably improve the health of many people since it makes it easier to exercise. Does that make it a health solution?

Like I said, I don’t think anyone is arguing that what Fitbit is doing is bad. I also can’t remember Fitbit ever really claiming to influence clinical care. It’s the rest of the world that’s drawing that conclusion for them. Countless are the number of articles that talk about a patient sharing their Fitbit data with their doctor.

In response to those articles doctors have generally responded, why do I care about their Fitbit data? I think the reason doctors react this way is because the Fitbit data is limited and really doesn’t affect the clinical care for most people. Maybe there’s some isolated cases, but for the majority of Americans it wouldn’t change the care they receive.

While this is true for Fitbit, there is a wave of other tracking devices that could (and I believe will) impact clinical care. It’s easy to see how a continuous ecg monitor that’s FDA cleared (ie. Doctors trust the data) could impact clinical care. This is actually true clinical data that doctors will care about seeing.

At this point I think it’s true that majority of doctors don’t want to get your Fitbit data. It’s not clinically relevant. However, that’s going to change rapidly as health sensors continue to evolve. Maybe Fitbit will find some clinical relevancy in the data they produce. If not, a wide variety of other vendors are going to create clinically relevant data that doctors will not only want in their EHR, but they’re going to demand it.

The only question I have now is, should we be building the highways for that data now so that we can easily turn on these new sources of clinically relevant data?

Side Note: I’ll be doing a Digital Health video blab from CES 2016 if you’d like to join.