Fitbit wants your health data for a new heart study

The study is calling for people aged 22 who live in the U.S. to participate.

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Fitbit wants to better understand atrial fibrillation cases among its users. In a press release published on Wednesday, the company announced its very own virtual Fitbit Heart Study.

The idea is straightforward: examine long-term heart rhythms (even when you're asleep), detect any risks, alert at-risk users and connect them with medical experts, and ultimately help public health. If you're interested in participating you need only be 22 years of age or older. And of course you'll need to own a Fitbit that's capable of heart-rate monitoring.

How does it work? — The Fitbit Heart Study will rely on the "photoplethysmography (PPG) technology on the back of the Fitbit device" to gauge the blood flow rate from a person's wrist.

"This is no different than what is currently done to measure heart rate," the company explains. "These measurements, however, will be further analyzed for users enrolled in the study by Fitbit’s new algorithm for irregularities. Those participants who receive a notification about an irregular heart rhythm will then be connected with a doctor for a virtual appointment at no cost to get more information and may receive an electrocardiogram (ECG) patch in the mail to confirm whether the notification detected by Fitbit was accurate or not."

Apple did this, too — Apple has also gone down this route. In order to demonstrate the medical utility of wearable gadgets in 2019, Apple fielded responses from at least 400,000 participants. Although there still are some issues with its atrial fibrillation detection (like false positives and false negatives), the company was able to derive insights from these responses and enhance the Apple Watch's ability to detect cardiac irregularities. It's not perfect, but when it does work it could be life-saving.

This isn't to say that wearing an Apple Watch — or a Fitbit — can identify all heart issues, but rather that analysis like this helps companies zero in on problems and improve their devices' potential for providing preventive health care. If you own a Fitbit and are old enough to participate in the test, your contribution could ultimately help save someone else's life down the line.