Northwell Health’s Feinstein Institutes for Medical Research and Fitbit on Thursday announced they are collaborating on a study to validate Fitbit’s Covid-19 early detection algorithm.
The study is supported by a $2.5 million award from the U.S. Department of Defense through the medical technology enterprise consortium. The award is part of the consortium’s efforts to keep military personnel healthy by detecting the virus before symptoms emerge.
San Francisco-based Fitbit, which manufactures wearable devices focused on tracking health and wellness metrics, had developed an algorithm to detect breathing rate, resting heart rate and other factors. It was originally meant to alert wearers to signs of a flu infection but was later adapted for Covid-19. However, the algorithm was studied only in a retrospective setting earlier this year, and there was a need for a prospective study to validate it in a real-world setting, said Taylor Helgren, vice president of product and strategy at Fitbit.
Several thousand frontline and custodial Northwell staffers are expected to participate in the study, said Amy McDonough, senior vice president and general manager of Fitbit Health Solutions. Northwell was selected as its research partner because it has a robust testing system in place and has a large network of employees, she added.
Once the study is initiated, enrolled Northwell employees will be given a Fitbit smartwatch. Upon notification of signs of potential illness, they will be given Covid-19 tests for verification, said Karina Davidson, director at the Feinstein Institutes for Medical Research.
“Beyond the push of vaccines, early detection and wearables are an exciting avenue to further protect the health of the general public,” Davidson said.
McDonough declined to disclose the full cost of the study. Fitbit’s aim is to eventually integrate early illness detection capabilities into its marketed wearables.
The company reported a revenue of $1.4 billion in 2019 and sold 16 million devices that year.