Google, Fitbit launch new cloud analytics tools to help hospitals harness wearables data

When Google acquired Fitbit for $2.1 billion in early 2021, it was unclear at the time how the tech giant planned to leverage the wearable company's capabilities in the healthcare space.

Google is now leveraging its cloud and analytics know-how combined with Fitbit's consumer wearables expertise to roll out a new service to help healthcare and life science organizations more easily use data from smartwatches and fitness trackers.

The new service, called Device Connect for Fitbit, aims to reduce some of the barriers for healthcare organizations to harness Fitbit data for patient monitoring programs or for research and population health projects. 

"The problem we are looking to solve stems from the fact that 80% of health happens outside of the hospital. But many healthcare organizations really don't have visibility to what patients are doing once they leave the hospital," Alissa Hsu Lynch, global lead, medtech strategy and solutions at Google Cloud, said in an interview.

"With consumer wearables like Fitbit, you can get visibility to what patients are doing at home and in their daily lives. And particularly, a lot of different patient behaviors can impact patient outcomes," she noted. "So, we focused on, how can we leverage wearables like Fitbit to help give a more holistic view of patients to healthcare and life sciences organizations?"

The service enables patients to make their Fitbit data available to providers, giving patients control over who they share their information with and how those data are used.

One challenge standing in the way of more widespread use of wearables data in healthcare is the lack of a common data standard for health devices, Lynch said. This often results in different data types and formats. 

"We really wanted to bring the power of Fitbit and Google Cloud together to help accelerate insights and time to insights for organizations to give them a more holistic view of patients and address interoperability of Fitbit data on Google Cloud," she said.

Device Connect for Fitbit offers several pre-built components that help make Fitbit data accessible and interoperable, according to the company.

There's an app for patient enrollment and consent and an open-source data connector so that wearables data can be integrated with Google Cloud's BigQuery for advanced analytics. The data connector supports emerging standards like Open mHealth and can make use of the Cloud Healthcare API to make Fitbit data interoperable with clinical data.

The service also includes pre-built interactive visualization dashboards that can be easily customized for different clinical settings and use cases to provide faster time to insights.

As Fitbit devices can track activity level, sleep, nutrition, weight and stress, the data can give care teams insights into patients' behavior and health status outside of the hospital. These data can be valuable for chronic condition management, pre- and post-surgery evaluation and for population health efforts and clinical trials, according to Google Cloud and Fitbit executives.

"We want to make the data interoperable, accessible and then ultimately useful so that they can get to those insights faster to support their care teams," Lynch said.

For a patient living with diabetes, care teams may have access to data from the patient's continuous glucose monitoring device but lack information about the patient's activity and sleep patterns, which also can affect glucose levels.

"We believe Device Connect for Fitbit can give organizations more of those insights and help them do the analytics and potentially develop AI models to help better support personalized care for patients," Lynch said.

For pre- and post-surgery use cases, the wearables data analytics service provides healthcare organizations with more visibility into patients' progress throughout the whole surgical journey, executives said.

Wearables data also can help address healthcare disparities, executives said. Analyzing a variety of data sets, such as demographic and social determinants of health alongside Fitbit data has the potential to provide organizations and researchers with new insights regarding disparities that may exist across populations—such as obesity disparities that exist among children in low-income families, or increased risk of complications among Black women related to pregnancy and childbirth, Lynch and Fitbit Health Solutions General Manager Amy McDonough wrote in a blog post.

The Hague’s Haga Teaching Hospital in the Netherlands is an early customer of the Device Connect for Fitbit service. The organization is using it to support a new study on early identification and prevention of vascular disease. 

"Collaborating with Google Cloud allows us to do our research, with the help of data analytics and AI, on a much greater scale,” cardiologist Ivo van der Bilt, M.D., Ph.D., said in a blog post about the new service. “Being able to leverage the new solution makes it easier than ever to gain the insights that will make this trial a success. Health is a precious commodity. You realize that all the more if you are struck down by an illness. If you can prevent it or catch it in time so that it can be treated, you have gained a great deal." 

The teaching hospital also plans to use the service to do more advanced analytics and develop AI models to help them with identifying and preventing heart disease, Lynch said. 

Moving forward, Google and Fitbit continue to be focused on addressing challenges with data interoperability in healthcare.

"That is certainly something that we are thinking about a lot and continue to look at. I can't share what our roadmap is, but definitely, there are opportunities and we hope that the industry joins us in focusing on the interoperability of health device data," she said.