Reuters has published details of an agreement between Fitbit, the wearable health metrics pioneer, and the Singapore government, to set up a health program involving up to a million who would receive devices from the company in return for an annual subscription of about $7 for a personalized health program, the first use of wearables in a national health program. Singapore, which has a population of 5.6 million, has one of the best public health systems and the longest life expectancy in the world.
The news has sent Fitbit’s shares up by 3% (they had fallen by 90% below their launch price in June 2015). The company, which has faced stiff competition from Apple, Samsung and others, has been working on moving toward selling health services for some time. Singapore’s government will ask users for authorization from October to share the data generated by their devices with the Health Promotion Board (HPB). Apple was among the other bidders for the contract, despite issues related to privacy and compatibility. Fitbit is the fifth company in the world in wearables, after Apple, Xiaomi, Huawei and Samsung, and has been systematically losing market share for several years.
The device proposed for the program is the Fitbit Inspire, a waterproof wristband with capacity to store activity data and sleep quality with up to five days of battery life. The HR version can store heart rates throughout the day, record sleep cycles and track calorie intake. Singapore’s public health system bases part of its success in making individuals responsible for their health, which coincides with the idea of the possible benefits of quantifying physical activity.
The idea of a state health program where users share the data on their wearables with a government agency raises any number of questions. It is unclear whether GPs or specialists will be able to see their patients’ wearable data, or to what extent the information will be used for other purposes: the Singapore government is concerned about the increase in heart disease and diabetes. While the administration is popular, some international organizations have expressed concern about the health of its democracy.
The idea of promoting public health by using wearables and raising public awareness about the need to maintain certain physical activity patterns reflects trends in preventive health, and we will surely see more examples of the mass use of wearables in the future.
This post was previously published on Enrique Dans and is republished here with permission from the author.
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Photo credit: Enrique Dans