Fitbit owners wear their watches and fitness trackers day and night, which gives the company tons of data about their health. Fitbit is now launching a study to determine whether all of that data can be used to diagnose covid-19 before any noticeable symptoms—including fever and cough—even begin.
The Fitbit Covid-19 Study, launched today, will collect data from volunteers that will be used to build an algorithm that could eventually make its way into a covid-19 diagnostic tool directly on Fitbit devices. Fitbit data is already being used in research being conducted by Scripps and Stanford Medicine as to whether wearable devices can detect covid-19. But those studies aren’t being used to build diagnostic algorithms the way the company’s own study will be.
Fitbit owners in the U.S. and Canada can sign up for the study in the Fitbit app on their smartphones. The company is looking specifically for people over 21 who either currently have covid-19 or have recovered from the virus, or those who have flu symptoms, to contribute data to the study. Those folks will be asked to complete a questionnaire about their symptoms and medical history, and then Fitbit will monitor their data as part of the study.
Right now, it’s unclear if a fitness tracker or smartwatch can detect covid-19 before symptoms present themselves, but the studies already underway are examining the link between blood oxygenation levels, respiratory rate, and heart rate, among other metrics, to see if those levels change dramatically enough that a device could alert you that you have likely contracted the novel coronavirus.
Fitbit is also conducting its own study on atrial fibrillation (or irregular heart rhythm) to see whether its smartwatches can diagnose the disease that contributes to hundreds of thousands of heart attacks and strokes a year. The results of that study will be submitted to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration as part of an application for approval of an aFib diagnostic feature in future Fitbit devices.
Fitbit hasn’t offered a timeline as to when they expect to wrap the covid-19 study or publish results, or whether they will seek FDA clearance for a coronavirus diagnostic feature. We’ve reached out for comment and will update if/when we receive a response. CNBC reported earlier this week that Fitbit is currently making low-cost emergency ventilators and will seek FDA approval for those devices soon.
It’s worth noting that Fitbit is close to being acquired by Google in a $US2.1 ($3) billion deal that is awaiting regulatory approval. Fitbit users will have to decide if the privacy concerns are worth the trade-off of contributing to a potentially life-saving algorithm.