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January 8, 2017

Fitbit makes new inroads into the healthcare industry

Fitbit, supplier of health related wristbands, has had a tough year. But the organisation has a plan to keep users hooked to its devices for the new year, Bloomberg writes. To make this happen, Fitbit is taking cues from the addictive nature of Facebook and other networks where people connect with friends.

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The company announced at CES in Las Vegas on Thursday that it is rolling out new social features on its app, including a news feed where users can share exercise summaries, read health-related content and join like-minded communities. The fitness-tracking wristband maker is also upgrading its personal-trainer app, Fitstar, to give users custom recommendations based on historical Fitbit data. A sort of personalised fitness buddy.

The top priority for Fitbit, says Chief Executive Officer James Park, is to be a ‘need to have’ versus a ‘nice to have. “We’re trying to work towards a vision over some period of time where people say it’d be crazy to leave the house without a Fitbit because of the impact it’s going to have on my health. 2017 is going to be key.”

Software, digital health

Park has been talking about turning Fitbit into a software and digital-health company for years. He isn’t  the only one who sees a future for consumer devices in healthcare. According to Rune Mehlum, Senior Manager Systems Engineering Benelux and Nordics, Industry Lead EMEA Healthcare, EMC, the boundaries between consumer based technology used for health related purposes and specifically for medical and clinical use developed devices are blurring.

But in the case of Fitbit, its vision could use a boost; the San Francisco-based company slashed its holiday-quarter sales forecast in November and reported a decline in Asia-Pacific sales. Amid investors’ concerns about the company’s long-term trajectory, the shares plunged more than 70 percent last year.

Fitbit at CES

At CES, the consumer electronics industry’s annual conference and showcase for new products and partnerships, Fitbit also unveiled an alliance with UnitedHealthcare Motion wellness program that will let participants use Fitbit’s Charge 2 fitness tracker. People can earn as much as $1,500 in health savings accounts or reimbursement credits each year if they reach certain fitness metrics.

Fitbit activity trackers are already used in weight-management and corporate wellness programs. But this is the first time the tracker is being directly integrated into a health plan’s design to give users a financial motive to get fit. “This is one partnership with one insurer, but if this could become a model, there’s a lot of upside in selling trackers,” said Joe Wittine, an analyst at Longbow Research LLC.

Consolidation

Park said consolidation is inevitable as the wearable market matures. “Trying to develop a connected device in the health industry is a really difficult task that requires a lot of distribution partnerships and scale,” he said. “There’s only going to be a few select winners.”

Fitbit lacks the resources to create apps for the health-care industry, he said, so it will invite third-party developers to do the job. The company also plans to partner with popular products and brands. Fitbit has made one such deal with Peloton, which makes an indoor-cycling workout bike. The company also has an accord with Habit food plans and VirZOOM, a virtual-reality gaming company.

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