Google wants to get FDA approval for Fitbit’s heart rate tracking

At Google’s second annual health event—The Checkup—the company shared key developments regarding its health initiatives. Google teams shared data on major health developments, but the most interesting update came from Google’s Fitbit team.

A blog post summarizing the event revealed that Fitbit has submitted a newly developed passive heart rate monitoring algorithm to the US Food and Drug Administration for review. Fitbit confirms that the algorithm was developed based on data collected from consenting adults in a large-scale virtual health study called the Fitbit Heart Study.

According to Google, more than half a million people who participated in the study helped it test its PPG (photoplethysmography) AFib (atrial fibrillation) algorithm. This algorithm allows Fitbit devices to passively record heart rate data and check for warning signs. The goal was to develop an internal early warning system for Fitbit.

This system is likely to be analogous to the one we saw on the Apple Watch, which has already saved thousands of lives. Besides the FDA, the study results were also presented at the American Heart Association meeting, with Fitbit claiming that the algorithm had a 98% success rate in detecting undiagnosed atrial fibrillation.

Unlike the Apple Watch, which can passively check for an irregular heartbeat without constant user input, Fitbit currently lacks this capability. All heart rate data collected on Fitbit devices is taken after the user decides to take a reading. This is precisely what the newly developed algorithm aims to change.

Fitbit is getting closer to the Apple Watch

After FDA approval, Fitbit devices will approach Apple Watch in passive heart monitoring capabilities and give it the much-needed ability to send a warning in the event of atrial fibrillation.

With Apple devices seeming to have this capability for ages, isn’t Google going a bit too late? The market will ultimately decide, but I believe that all technological advances that can save lives should be encouraged. On the other hand, it’s likely that some people will be a bit skeptical about entrusting their health data to a company like Google.

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