Fitbit’s Familiarity with Class Action Lawsuits

Fitbit, the wearable fitness tracker, has gone from strength to strength since its launch. The company recorded a record $1.858 billion (!) in revenue at the close of the 2015 financial year, and, due to its affordable price tag, everyone from we regular folk, to soon-to-be ex-P.O.T.U.S. Barak Obama can be seen wearing one. That said, Fitbit are known to court controversy; in 2015, it was suggested that the advertised “sleep-tracker” in the company’s Flex model was inaccurate, and over-logged sleep. This case is still ongoing, but it is important to note that it is not suggesting negligence with regards to health; rather that the product itself was falsely advertised. It remains to be seen how this case will play out, but as if that wasn’t enough, at the beginning of the year, a multiple-plaintiff class action lawsuit was filed, with a study showing evidence that Fitbit’s PurePulse technology was woefully inaccurate during exertion.

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The study, performed by a team at California State Polytechnic, compared exertional heart rates acquired via the wearable device and from an ECG. After exercising 43 individuals for 65 minutes, it was noted that the various Fitbit models displayed a heart rate that differed by up to 22bpm compared to that on the ECG, and that some didn’t display a heart rate at all.

According to the study’s team, there exists a distinct lack of rigorous, scientific testing in the wearables market (this is further suggested by lawsuits filed against other, similar product developers), but Fitbit have dismissed both this statement and the study itself, citing bias and, perhaps humorously for reasons I shall soon disclose, a lack of scientific methodology. Fitbit have stated that they perform extensive testing during development, and have pointed towards another study which purports to have found PurePulse products to be highly accurate, although it is important to note that this particular study tested a sample size of two (yes… two).

Wearable devices aren’t anything new, but with technological advances, they are no longer being seen as simply fitness trackers and companies are exploring their application in healthcare. As this gains further traction, accuracy will be incredibly important. In fact, one of the plaintiffs in this case, an 82 year old woman, has alleged that her device underestimated her heart rate by such a margin, that were she to have tried to reach her supposed target heart rate, she would have likely done serious damage to her health, so it is already having a potential impact.

The company’s financial growth since the launch of this generation of devices is thought to be largely due to PurePulse, what with it being the most heavily marketed new feature, so Fitbit’s request that the case be dismissed has last week been denied. Judge Susan Illston has decided that the plaintiffs case has sufficient merit, with regard to fraudulent claims about Fitbit’s accuracy, so it will be considered in court. This does not necessarily give an indication as to the outcome, however.

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Is Mobile Echocardiography On The Horizon?

Smartphone and tablet technology is advancing at a rapid rate, so it should come as no surprise that it is being used for a variety of different purposes. Healthcare companies are finding novel ways to encourage patients to take charge of their own health; peripherals allow for BP measurement and three lead ECG monitoring in one’s own home, and it’s possible to measure your heart rate at rest and during exercise now, with software that comes as a pre-installed fitness suite on most modern devices.

It stands to reason, then, that these same companies would create clinical grade applications and device extensions that would benefit practitioners, also. I covered the use of Google Glass in revascularisation, already, but another device is making its way to the market at the moment, too; mobile ultrasound.

After unveiling it in 2014, Philips were granted FDA approval of their Luimfy system only a couple of weeks ago and have announced that it is now available for purchase in the US.

A $199 per month subscription, an Android phone/tablet and a micro USB probe are all you need, as the app and it’s peripheral are designed to work with compatible devices off-the-shelf.

In its current form, the scanning app allows practitioners to examine the gall bladder, abdomen and lungs, in addition to having obstetric, vascular, superficial, musculoskeletal and soft tissue functionality, so the device isn’t suitable for echocardiography, but I’m certain that in the future, given the power already available in modern devices, it’s a real possibility.

In UK hospitals, where space is a deciding factor for treatment options, having an ultrasound monitor that can fit in a small case would be a real boon. Emergency and critical care ultrasound is actually what the system was designed for, so it makes sense that the most obvious impact relates to time and accessibility.

Streamlining the healthcare process is paramount, and the fact that this system is based around an app could be a real advantage. The images gained by the practitioner can be shared via the cloud, so the network of professionals involved with one patient can have near instant access to the relevant materials needed for diagnosis. Philips could also provide continued software support and provide updates based on user feedback, without the need for engineer call outs.

Now, I’m no app developer (I’m trying. It’s rather complex…), but I do use them, so I can identify some common problems in cloud storage and functionality.

Firstly, as this is an Android app, it may present issues in performance across devices. There are a number of latency issues with apps for this OS and further issues regarding app performance in general from one device to another, especially if the base OS differs slightly between manufacturers (if you’ve tried to compare performance between Samsung and Google Nexus, you’ll know what I mean). In this case, Philips would have to be fairly on the ball with their customer support, especially given the subscription costs for practitioners.

I guess the issue with cloud storage brings us to patient confidentiality, as the last couple of years have seen some high profile cloud hacks leak “sensitive” data to the public, but many hospitals are already digital, so surely it’s a case of ensuring the level of security is appropriate.

As far as echo goes, the advantage of switchable probes and live, cloud updating comes into its own; echo features could be added with an update, in theory. It’s a case of making it happen. It’s unlikely, but if I ever get a chance to try one, I’ll make sure to tell you of my experience.

For more information, go here: http://www.ifa.philips.com/news/digital-innovations/philips-lumify

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