Dr. Jacqueline Shreibati will be trading in her position as AliveCor’s CMO for a new role within the clinical research group at Google Health, reporting directly to Chief Health Officer Dr. Karen DeSalvo. AliveCor is the maker of mobile and wearable electrocardiogram (EKG) devices — and competes with the Apple Watch and its newly integrated EKG capabilities. Shreibati’s prior experience at a health wearable company could make her a good fit for a role within Fitbit, which Google recently acquired, but is now stuck in limbo pending the completion of an antitrust probe from the US Department of Justice (DOJ).
Shreibati’s hiring provides a springboard for Google to expand Fitbit’s capabilities as a medical research tool, which could be a major opportunity to increase the company’s share of the wearables market. Use of smart devices, like wearables and mobile phones, in clinical studies grew at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 32% between 2000 and 2017, with more than 1,000 trials using connected smart devices in 2017, according to new research from Harvard Business School. And Fitbit has already found some success when it comes to establishing its products as cost-effective health-tracking tools for wide-scale research and population health initiatives: Fitbit snagged a deal with the Singapore Government to provide Fitbit devices to “hundreds of thousands” of people as part of government-led diabetes prevention program, dubbed Live Healthy SG, for instance. It’s also been rumored that the UK’s National Health Service will be supplying 40,000 people with Fitbit devices as part of its Diabetes Prevention Program. And we’ve reasoned that Fitbit’s product diversity and lower price point have helped give the company an edge over rival Apple in securing large-scale healthcare partnerships for its wearable devices: Fitbit has lower-priced products directly focused on health tracking (like the $150 Charge 3 device), which can help the company compete on per unit cost against the decked out Apple Watch, which ships with many features that may be irrelevant to healthcare organizations and comes with a $350 price tag.
But to effectively compete with the Apple Watch on large-scale healthcare partnerships, Fitbit will need improve on the number of health features its devices offer. Perhaps the biggest edge Apple has over Fitbit at the moment is the Apple Watch 4’s clinical-grade EKG, which the tech giant has used to support Stanford’s 400,000-person study on the effectiveness of wearable devices for the detection and monitoring of atrial fibrillation (Afib) — an irregular heart rate that’s a leading cause of stroke. And while the results of Apple’s landmark heart health study were mixed, there’s been excitement in the medical community about the Watch’s potential to dramatically improve clinical trial recruitment efforts. Following the recruitment success of the Stanford heart study, Apple launched a dedicated Research app for connecting Apple users to clinical trials across a range of health fields. So, it’s true that Google has a chance to mount a real threat against Apple’s domination of the wearables market in healthcare with its Fitbit acquisition and with the expertise of new recruit Dr. Shreibati — but I (Zach) think Fitbit’s next, big product release will need to launch within the next year and achieve (if not surpass) health feature parity with the Apple Watch if it wants to prevent its rival’s consumer sales advantage to lead to domination in healthcare as well.