Oura launches employer-focused wellness arm

Oura for Business was launched yesterday with the promise of bringing its sleep insights into all corners of industry: corporations, higher education, athletics and the military.

The new offering from the Finnish startup, which has U.S. headquarters in San Francisco, will equip employees with the Oura Ring to reveal the quality of sleep, and those data will be anonymized and aggregated for employers. Oura partners will be able to view overall trends of their workforce or student body and then can work with the health tech company to reveal insights and design prompts or update practices to improve outcomes.

“We can track the well-being of a company’s employees and use that to empower management to engage their workers better and design and change their well-being program on the fly, to react to the health of their of their employees,” Oura's head of business development Geoff Wylde told Fierce Healthcare. “And then, at the same time, giving employees the really valuable tool of their own knowledge of their body in their sleep and their health, empowering them to make changes that are going to lead to healthier outcomes.”

Oura gives users sleep scores at a higher level of accuracy than any other at-home wearable, the company said. By tracking sleep over time, it offers personalized guidance through an app to improve sleep quality and overall health.

The ring’s sleep staging algorithm has reached a 79% alignment with gold-standard polysomnography that identifies the four stages of sleep: awake, light sleep, deep sleep and rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. By comparison, the majority of commercial wrist wearables achieve 60% to 65% agreement with the standard.

Oura for Business begins with potential partners determining their objective for the tech: for the military or student-athlete population, it's performance; for a corporation, it’s employee wellness; for a pharma company, it’s research applications.

Oura for Business is conducted in a privacy-driven manner, Wylde said, as all information sharing is opt-in. Employers may cover the purchase of the Oura Ring for an employee without ever gaining any insight into their sleeping habits. The ring itself is a hefty initial purchase between $300 and $549 plus a $6 monthly charge for the app.

For employees that do opt in, their information is de-identified and integrated into their organization’s data pool. Additionally, some aggregate scores are only shared with wearers, like what time they generally go to bed.

“Before we even picked up the pen on any product design, we surveyed employees around what information would they be interested or not interested in sharing, and it really brought that level of data to the core of our of our product design,” Wylde said. “So the employer can only see aggregated trends along their teams and are unable to look at any one individual to pull out specific statistics.”

While burnout entered the zeitgeist due to COVID-19—as the pandemic become endemic—the subject is sticking around, Wylde said. “You know, employers are realizing that burnout, stress management and mental health are costing them in many ways; retention and productivity are down.”

As worker turnover soars and the filling of job postings lags, Oura has already filled the role of “wellness advisor” with several partners in the healthcare industry, according to Wylde.

Already, Oura has partnered with over 200 customers in areas such as business, healthcare, academia and clinical research and the military, including the Air Force, the Navy, the Army, NASA, Red Bull Racing, NASCAR and Clemson University.

Wylde said that to understand the core of a person or an employee means understanding their sleep patterns. Meeting people where they’re at may mean pushing meetings to later in the morning so that REM sleep, which is necessary for creativity and takes place in the early morning hours, gets priority.

A group of interdisciplinary researchers at the University of Vermont (UVM) are using the ring in a study of 600 undergraduate students to better understand physical and mental health and the efficacy of behavioral interventions. Oura for Business helps partners design and implement targeted interventions that may be changing the time of meetings or offering on-campus fitness classes.

“You know, the goal is to characterize and understand activity and sleep and hygiene habits on these university students who are at risk of potential burnout: studying late, poor health habits like poor diet,” Wylde said. “Then we look at targeted interventions, like mindfulness courses, or yoga or exercise, or prioritizing a good night's sleep and seeing how that can improve the health and well-being of students throughout their undergraduate career.”

The ring tracks information such as temperature, movement, heart rate, heart rate variability and blood oxygen levels that could reveal larger health challenges like sleep apnea. Like other wearables, it can measure daily activities to track fitness goals.

Placement on the finger allows for better temperature readings, while Wylde says researchers are interested in the device due to subjects showing increased compliance in wearing a ring as opposed to a bracelet.

Through research at the University of California, San Francisco, the Defense Innovation Unit and the Defense Threat Reduction Agency, the wearable is being used to research illness detection. At the peak of the pandemic, 2,000 front-line healthcare workers were given the ring for potential early detection of COVID-19 symptoms.

The company plans to release improved sleep staging assessments in the coming months. The sleep research that underpins their algorithms encompass longitudinal studies from all over the world to account for culture, weather patterns, skin tones, body composition, age and sleep disorders.

“What Oura for Business does is it provides the tools to support the ongoing trend in healthcare research toward decentralized and patient-centered research,” Wylde said. “The infrastructure of Oura for Business now allows us to deploy at scale much easier, like the UVM example. We have 600 students. The logistics of getting those rings on fingers isn't always easy. Oura for Business makes that seamless and easy for our research customers.”

In March, the company announced that it sold its millionth ring. The ring has reached its third generation and has become a status symbol as celebrities including British royals have donned the tech fashion accessory. Oura welcomed Tom Hale as its new CEO earlier this year. The company has acquired $148.3 million in funding to date and, as of April, raised capital at a $2.55 billion valuation.