Fitbit joins growing list of companies offering back-to-work health screening tools

woman dressed to exercise walks down stairs looking at Fitbit fitness tracker on her wrist
Many technology companies are betting on employers using mobile apps, symptom checkers and wearables to screen employees and clear them to return to work amid the COVID-19 pandemic. (Fitbit)

Device maker Fitbit is the latest technology company to jump into the back-to-work business.

The company is leveraging its expertise in wearable technology and its relationship with employers to roll out a solution that aims to help bring employees back to workplaces safely amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The tool, called Ready for Work, helps employees determine whether they have signs of COVID-19 before returning to work using key health metrics from Fitbit devices and self-reported symptoms. A digital daily check-in feature enables users to log information about exposure, symptoms and their current body temperature and provides guidance on whether to go into the workplace, Fitbit said.

Daily reporting and analytics enable employers to quickly assess and monitor workplace health and safety and provide support for employees.

The feature is being rolled out through Fitbit's Health Solutions business.

For more than 13 years, Fitbit has been working with employers to provide engaging solutions for employees to improve their health, Amy McDonough, general manager and senior vice president for Fitbit Health Solutions, told Fierce Healthcare.

"As workplaces start to reopen and with our long-standing relationship with employers, we felt we have a big opportunity to help their employees return to work safely and confidently," McDonough said.

“Early action is key to protecting the workforce and the workplace. Ready for Work enables employees to view trends in their Fitbit-tracked health metrics next to self-reported symptoms so they can assess their health and readiness for work from home," she said.

The daily check-in feature can be used by employees who do not have a Fitbit device, McDonough said, although the program is designed to work optimally with Fitbit's health monitoring capabilities.

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Stay-at-home orders and social distancing measures during the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in many companies shifting employees to remote work for the past several months. As some cities and states ease lockdowns, employers are reopening stores, offices and warehouses and beginning to transition employees back to on-site work.

Many technology firms see this as a ripe opportunity to offer mobile apps, symptom checkers and wearables to employers as tools to screen employees and clear them to return to work or guide them to stay home or get a COVID-19 test if they report symptoms.

In May, UnitedHealth Group and Microsoft teamed up to launch a new protocol and app called ProtectWell as a screening tool for employers. The app includes an “AI-powered healthcare bot that asks users a series of questions to screen for COVID-19 symptoms or exposure," UnitedHealth said.

Castlight Health launched a Working Well tool that offers symptom and exposure assessment, supports testing protocols and enables worksite contact tracing. Artificial intelligence company Jvion also offers a back-to-work assessment that screens employees for COVID vulnerability and exposure and supports ongoing employee safety monitoring.

Collective Health, Carbon Health, VitalTech and Zebra Technologies also have rolled out their own digital health tools for employers.

COVID-19 is a complex illness that people may spread without displaying symptoms, making it difficult to rely on a symptom check or a temperature screening alone to understand who might be contagious, according to Fitbit

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently estimated that 40% of coronavirus transmission is occurring before the onset of symptoms.

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Unlike onsite temperature checks or screenings, Fitbit's tool provides a continuous, more complete picture of an individual’s health, McDonough said.

Fitbit's daily check-in feature highlights for employees changes in their resting heart rate, heart rate variability, and breathing rate alongside self-reported symptoms, temperature, and COVID-19 exposure.

Early research shows that resting heart rate data and other key health indicators from wearables have the potential to identify flu-like illness before symptoms emerge.

Michael Snyder, Ph.D.. director of Stanford’s Center for Genomics and Personalized Medicine, believes wearable devices can be important tools in assessing the overall health of employees as they prepare to return to work, especially when evaluating pre-symptomatic and asymptomatic cases of COVID-19.

Snyder is leading a research study at Stanford to explore the use of wearable data to detect the early onset of infectious diseases, including COVID-19.

“Wearable devices are powerful because they measure nuances in biometrics potentially indicating the onset of illness that cannot be detected during a regular physician office visit,” Snyder said in a statement. “When measuring heart rate, even an increase of two heartbeats per minute could be indicative of a significant immune system response."

John Moore, Ph.D., medical director at Fitbit, said the company's platform also provides ongoing mental health and wellness support for users, which may be beneficial as transitioning back to the workplace could be stressful for employees.

As part of Fitbit’s offering, employees will have access to Fitbit Care’s full suite of services, including weekly webinars, podcasts and videos from Fitbit health coaches to help employees learn strategies for adjusting to new routines and coping with change, the company said.

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