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mHealth Wearables Gain New Ground in Fitbit-Medtronic Deal

The partnership will combine Fitbit's activity and sleep data with blood glucose readings from Medtronic's platform, giving mHealth wearables a clinical connection.

- mHealth wearables are bridging the gap between consumers and healthcare providers, giving both sides more reasons to think of fitness bands in clinical terms.

Adam Pellegrini

Fitbit’s new partnership with Medtronic is likely to open the doors to more collaborations between the maker of the world’s best-selling fitness band and mHealth companies. Adam Pellegrini, the company’s vice president of digital health, says it will also boost Fitbit’s already-considerable presence with doctors looking to monitor patients at home.

“This is a very real integration” of Fitbit’s activity and sleep data with Medtronic’s diabetes management capabilities, he says. “It marks a more formal commitment to digital health.”

Through the new iPro2 myLog mobile app, Fitbit users with type 2 diabetes can now integrate their activity and sleep data with blood glucose data from Medtronic’s iPro2 professional CGM platform. This allows users to track how their activity and sleep patterns affect their blood glucose levels, and it gives them a template to share with their healthcare providers.

“We believe monitoring glucose is a critical element in the management of diabetes and therefore, glucose should be included among other vital signs,” Laura Stoltenberg, vice president and general manager of non-intensive diabetes therapies at Medtronic, said in a press release. “As such, it has never been more important to increase the collaboration between healthcare and technology to simplify daily diabetes management for the 29 million patients living with type 2 diabetes in the United States”

“By creating a connection between physical activity and glucose levels, our iPro2 myLog mobile app solution provides new tools and insights, so that physicians can optimize therapy and patients can better understand how to manage their diabetes,” she added.

Pellegrini, a longtime advocate of consumer engagement and “the power of connecting patient to providers” who recently joined Fitbit from Walgreens, says Fitbit’s activity trackers have been used by dozens of health systems for several years and are the basis of more than 200 pilots and clinical studies as far back as 2013, when the Mayo Clinic used Fitbits to study functional recovery of elderly patients after major surgery.  

Healthcare providers have long valued fitness devices for providing insight into a patient’s daily activity, he says. The challenge has been to maintain engagement and connect that activity to clinical outcomes, especially in patients with chronic conditions who could benefit from remote monitoring.

“Providers … really want to have this type of information,” he says. “This is a very powerful educational [channel] that creates an awareness of how fitness and health play together.”

Providers have had some concerns about the reliability of data coming from consumer devices in the past, but Pellegrini says they also recognize the popularity of those devices as a means of motivating people to make healthy decisions. This partnership with Medtronic offers an opportunity to marry fitness trends with mHealth data, giving users a stronger reason to track their activity and providers a chance to use that in care management and remote monitoring programs.

In a separate interview earlier this year with mHealthIntelligence.com, Amy McDonough, vice president and general manager of Fitbit Group Health, said it’s time for providers to accept that fitness data is a legitimate tool for improving clinical outcomes.

“The opportunity is there (for providers) to use consumerism, to tap into the power of the individual to affect change,” she said. “The results we’re seeing are not only (showing) cost savings, but improving clinical outcomes as well.”

“This is a measurement device for health and wellness,” she added, pointing out that Fitbit was around “before there was a word for wearables.” “We are a data-driven company. We’re an analytics-driven company. There are a lot of opportunities for us in healthcare.”

One health system looking to combine Fitbits with remote monitoring of diabetic patients is Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota. Earlier this year, the health system used Fitbits to monitor the activity levels of some 114 type 1 diabetic patients between the ages of 8 and 17.

Doctors at the hospital reviewed information from the children alongside data from their Medtronic insulin pumps, then connected with the patients and their parents through an online engagement platform to discuss care management.

“We need to capitalize on new technology that allows us to look at their data more frequently than every three months” when they come in for their regularly scheduled checkup, said Laura Gandrud, MD, a pediatric endocrinologist. “There’s a lot going on that we don’t know about.”

At Boston’s Dana Farber Cancer Institute’s Susan F. Smith Center for Women’s Cancers, meanwhile, doctors are using Fitbits to measure activity and weight loss in women diagnosed with breast cancer. The wearables offer an easy and unintrusive channel for care managers to help women with an issue they may not feel comfortable discussing in a doctor’s office.

“It will be a challenge to help hundreds of women lose weight without actually ever meeting them face-to-face,” Jennifer Ligibel, MD, a breast oncologist at the center and lead investigator of the BWEL (Breast Cancer Weight Loss) trial, said. “Fitbit products will allow coaches to see how participants are doing in terms of meeting their weight, physical activity and caloric goals, and step in when women need extra support to stay on track.”

Pellegrini says mHealth partnerships like that between Fitbit and Medtronic give doctors and nurses the opportunity to make fitness data meaningful to patients.

“This is a more qualified way of approaching patients for information” that they can use to improve outcomes, he points out. 

Dig Deeper:

How mHealth Technology Supports Patient Engagement Strategies

Fitbit’s Push for Pebble Could Stir Up the mHealth Wearables Market

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