Fitbit (FIT) is diving deeper into the health care space, announcing a new collaboration Thursday with the Bristol-Myers Squibb-Pfizer Alliance to assist users with the detection, diagnosis, and potential treatment of the heart condition atrial fibrillation.
"[Fitbit has been working on its] AFib detection technology for quite a while, and in dialogue with the FDA to get that cleared and available to consumers," Fitbit CEO James Park told Yahoo Finance.
"But we're also looking beyond the detection and diagnosis, and trying to think about the whole health care pathway as it relates to AFib. It's why we're working with, collaborating with, BMS Pfizer to make that happen, hence the joint announcement."
This is part of Fitbit's strategy to dive deeper into the health care space, helping it to differentiate itself from other hardware manufacturers like Apple, which has overtaken Fitbit as the top-selling smartwatch maker.
Detecting and treating Afib
Atrial fibrillation, or AFib, is a kind of irregular heart rhythm. According to the American Heart Association, AFib occurs when the upper chambers of the heart, known as the atria, beat out of sync with the lower chambers, called the ventricles. The condition doubles the risk of heart attacks and leads to a five-fold increase in the risk of strokes.
The collaboration between Fitbit and the Bristol-Myers Squibb (BMY) Pfizer (PFE) Alliance is to provide users with a means to not only detect whether they have AFib, but to also provide them with information and facts on the condition. Users would then be able to take the data from their Fitbit to their doctor or health care provider and develop a treatment plan.
The Apple (AAPL) Watch Series 4 and Apple Watch Series 5 can both detect AFib using their built-in ECG sensors. The company previously worked with the FDA to receive certification for its watches.
Fitbit, however, is still working with the FDA to receive clearance to use its devices as a means to detect AFib. The company is currently collecting clinical data, but hasn't submitted its information to the FDA for final approval.
"We're in dialogue with the FDA, but we'll have to see, you know," Park said. "It's in the future, and we can't comment on the exact timing."
Fitbit is no stranger to the health care field. The company already works with health plans on diabetes management programs, and its Fitbit Health Solutions business is on track to bring in $100 million in 2019.
In addition to AFib, Fitbit is actively working on a means to detect sleep apnea, a condition in which a person temporarily stops breathing during sleep. Sleep apnea can lead to everything from snoring to liver issues, high blood pressure, and an increased risk of diabetes.
Fitbit's sleep tracking software would likely be used as part of this feature, though the company hasn't submitted to the FDA for approval.
Taking on Apple
Fitbit is working to transition its business model away from a dependence on hardware sales and toward software. In August, the company launched its Fitbit Premium service, which, at $9.99 per month or $79.99 per year, provides users with personalized programs, workouts, and insights into their fitness.
Hardware sales have been lighter than expected for Fitbit of late. During its Q2 2019 earnings, the company cut the mid-point of its full year guidance by $95 million due to weak sales of its Versa smartwatch.
The company released the follow-up to the Versa, the Versa, 2 in August at a price point of $199, which was surprisingly capable for a smartwatch at that price. But in September, Apple announced that it was dropping the price of its Apple Watch Series 3 to $199.
Between the two, the Apple Watch has the better build quality and display, making it more appealing for iPhone owners.
Park says Fitbit's appeal is that it will eventually provide its AFib detection feature to more consumers by bringing it to any device in the company's line with a heart rate sensor. That, combined with Fitbit's plan to give users actionable information about their conditions, could prove to be a key differentiator for the company.
Still, users with even the Apple Watch Series 1 can receive alerts for things such as irregular heart beats and export their results to a doctor via PDF. That, along with information from Apple’s Health app, can help provide detailed information about your general health.
We'll now have to wait and see when Fitbit can bring its planned feature to market to determine how much of a boost it can bring to the company.
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Email Daniel Howley at firstname.lastname@example.org; follow him on Twitter at @DanielHowley.